If the county government built a new prison, the project would practically get paid on its own because the current jail could generate several million dollars if federal prisoners are housed in it.
"This building is just right for federal prisoners because the federal court is very close and U.S. Marshals would like to spend less on the transportation of prisoners and have more security," Sheriff Martin Cuellar informed.
He also mentioned that the federal government currently pays almost $50 per day for each federal prisoner, but there is no room in the county jail for these prisoners.
"'These are prisoners that generate revenue but we can not have many of them because we need the space for local and state prisoners, the jail easily reaches its capacity of 572 beds," he indicated.
Cuellar stressed that this new prison project should have been worked on, therefore he has requested the support from the Commissioners Court to find a suitable site.
Cuellar also plans to make improvements in the prison control center in order to offer greater security for employees and prisoners.
The next day, County Commissioners approved the Sheriff's request to seek donated property for the project and established a committee to study a new jail.
It would be a mistake, though, for Webb County to overbuild beyond its own needs or seek to turn a profit competing with private prison vendors. That can too easily backfire, just like it did in Cameron County, which overbuilt its jail, took on large federal detention contracts, and now gets paid $36.35 per day to house federal inmates and must pay $48 per day to house their own, local pretrial detainees three hours away in another county.
As it turns out, Webb County has problems staffing its jail at current inmate levels because the commissioners court hasn't hired enough guards. But a bigger jail with more jailers will cost less?
The Sheriff is selling Webb County commissioners a pig in a poke: There's no such thing as a free lunch or a free jail.