Sheriff Bob Alford, though, insisted building additional capacity is the only option. Commissioner Don Beeson opined, "Its not popular, but we have a responsibility. We just simply have outgrown this facility."
But have they? According to the latest report by the Commission on Jail Standards (1/1/14), the Johnson County Jail has a capacity of 870 but only 454 local prisoners, meaning local demand presently only takes up 52% of available jail beds. When one takes into account more than 250 contract prisoners, though, the jail is 81% full. So the push to expand the jail isn't due to rising local needs but stems from past decisions by the commissioners court to speculatively build excess capacity to house inmates from elsewhere.
The ill-fated decision to overbuild the jail has haunted the county for years. In 2010, their previous contractor dumped the county because they couldn't find inmates to fill the empty beds. The new contractor, LaSalle Corrections out of Lousiana, has been more successful at filling the beds and now wants the county to build them extra capacity. Judge Harmon, though:
It's disingenuous for Alford to claim the LaSalle contract "saves" the county money. Really, LaSalle's contract only saved the county from the consequences of their own poor decision making. Now he wants commissioners to double down on the bad decision that got them in trouble in the first place. True, the county was losing money hand over fist before LaSalle took over because they'd overbuilt the jail and couldn't find contract inmates to pay the bills. But they don't owe the private prison firm anything and certainly aren't obligated to raise taxes to build additional jail capacity. If the county now needs extra space for their own prisoners, they've got plenty. The only reason to build more is for LaSalle's benefit, not their own.had pointed words for LaSalle Southwest Corrections, the company that operates the jail.
"It is in our contract with LaSalle that they will take care of maintenance issues," Harmon said. "Why don't they take care of their contractual obligation? They're not."
The contract calls for repairs under $5,000 to be performed by LaSalle. There are at least two of those issues that arise monthly, Sheriff Bob Alford said. But no amount of $5,000 maintenance repairs can solve all the jail's issues, Beeson said.
"If it were a $5,000 issue, we wouldn't need a $20 million jail," he said.
The contract with LaSalle Southwest Corrections for operation of the jail saves the county about $1 million annually, Alford has said.
"The taxpayers of this county put us in office to represent the taxpayers," Harmon said. "They did not put us in office to represent a corporation."