LaSalle Corrections will continue operating the Jack Harwell Detention Center after McLennan County commissioners Tuesday voted unanimously to extend the contract, including a termination clause that would have been violated six times last year had it been in place.
The three-year contract would have ended this month, but now extends to June 2018.
Dustin Chapman, a legal adviser for the county, said the contract now includes a 90-day termination agreement. On or after June 13, 2016, the county or LaSalle can end the partnership if the monthly inmate population is less than an average of 575 total inmates for two consecutive months, Chapman said. Either party would have to provide a 90-day written notice of intent to terminate before moving forward, he said.
If the provision had been in place previously, based on the inmate population at Jack Harwell in 2014, the contract could have been terminated six different times because of low inmate populations. Jack Harwell housed more than 200,000 inmates in 2014, and the daily inmate population per month ranged from 432 to 698. The Harwell center holds 816 prisoners.
The lowest the numbers dropped was in November and December, when the average daily inmate population for the two months was 445.
County Judge Scott Felton said he is not concerned because LaSalle Corrections has more than proved its commitment to the operation.
Felton said the company has lost money since it took over operations because of the low occupancy rate.
“We’re glad to extend it with LaSalle because we trust them and they’re good business people,” Felton said. “They pay the note payment on the bonds to pay for the jail and they’ve never missed a payment, even without making money.”
Commissioner Ben Perry said the jail industry is not performing well anywhere.
Perry and Felton said when the federal government decided to change its stance on immigration and quit incarcerating illegal immigrants at a high rate, it hit the jail industry hard.
The county hired LaSalle in 2013 in hopes it could generate more revenue by attracting federal prisoners instead of relying on county inmates.
Felton said before they took over, Immigration and Customs Enforcement had agreed to work with LaSalle to fill the jail with its inmates. Felton said the ICE inmates were here briefly before ICE pulled them back out.
“When the federal government took the stance they did toward immigration, the jails emptied out,” Perry said.
Felton said he thinks the government contracts eventually will come back, helping to increase the jail population.
“(LaSalle is) a for-profit business. and they have to have some assurance that they can be able to hang on here without being financially punished until things change,” Felton said about having the 90-day provision. “It’s been a great relationship on both sides, and that was said right upfront.”
Perry said it is vital the relationship survive between the county and LaSalle, for multiple reasons.
“We need each other,” Perry said. “There are no other vendors for the most part. If LaSalle left right now, it would be very difficult for us to go out for bids and have anything reasonable brought back to us.”