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No New Private Jail in McLennan County; Will County Take Back CEC/CiviGenics Jail?

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The Waco Tribune has the story today (Vote on County-Run Jail Draws Nervous Jailers' Applause, August 6) that the McLennan Couny Commission has wisely chosen not to privatize the existing county jail. According to the article,

The McLennan County Jail on State Highway 6 won’t be privatized — at least for now.

It’s just what jailers and jail employees packing McLennan County commissioners court meetings the past six weeks have been waiting to hear.

For the first time in the six weeks since county officials began debating proposals to privatize the county jail system or parts of it, Sheriff Larry Lynch attended a commissioners’ meeting Tuesday. He didn’t speak at the meeting and wouldn’t discuss the issue later with the Tribune-Herald.

Commissioners, basing their decision on a recommendation from the sheriff in a memo dated Monday, voted Tuesday to keep the overcrowded, 931-bed Highway 6 jail “under the care, custody and control” of the sheriff’s office.

Still, there's the thorny question of what to do with the existing CEC/CiviGenics downtown jail in Waco. As we've reported, the Sheriff's Officers Association and the Waco Tribune editorial board have both advocated a county-take over that troubled facility.

CEC representatives Peter Argeropulos and Mike Wilson detailed the remaining options Tuesday, including the construction and operation of a new jail on 8.9 acres adjacent to the Highway 6 jail and a new contract to operate the downtown McLennan County Detention Center, which CEC, formerly CiviGenics, has leased from the county since 1999.

Last week, Mashek said the county should take back the 329-bed jail downtown when CEC’s contract with the county expires Oct. 1. That would help ease overcrowding at the Highway 6 jail immediately and give the county three to five years to plan for future jail expansion, Mashek said.

Commissioners are expected to address Mashek’s proposal next week, said Lewis, who appears to be leaning toward renewing CEC’s downtown contract and allowing it to finance, build and operate a new jail on Highway 6.

The rest of the article introduces us to some of those pushing the construction of a new private jail in McLennan County - prison bond financier Municipal Capital Markets Group, who was last seen pushing a new family detention center in Raymondville, and Herb Bristow, the McLennan County Attorney who also advises many other counties on jail issues. Here, Bristow, who seems to always be advocating a new private jail, again sings the praises of the private prison company proposal,

Bristow, who also represents other Texas counties and advises them on jail issues, called CEC’s proposal a “very thorough, well-thought-out offer.”

“It is an opportunity for the county to have a facility built at no cost to the taxpayers,” Bristow said. “That is the bottom line. Economics, at the end of the day, will dictate the course of action.”

Of course, Bristow leaves out the important question about whether the county needs new jail capacity. As Scott over at Grits for Breakfast has pointed out and the Texas Commission on Jail Standards has apparently agreed McLennan County isn't in a major capacity crisis. Common sense solultions to jail overcrowding make more sense, both economically and as criminal justice policy, than building a new private jail in McLennan County. We'll keep you posted.

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