The county has started recruitment for 111 staffers officials expect will be needed to run the Jack Harwell Detention Center when its for-profit operator hands over the reins in October.

For the first time since the county built the jail in 2010, it will be operated by the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office, which already runs the McLennan County Jail next door.

“This has been in the works for about three years, considering the money and the county’s budget to determine what is feasible for the taxpayers,” sheriff’s office jail Lt. Mike Garrett said. “We have not hired anyone yet, because we are still waiting the go-ahead from commissioners court as they work their way through the budget process to evaluate what we need as we move forward.”

LaSalle Corrections notified the county in May that it would agree to end its contract to run the Harwell jail. The county has not announced how much it expects to spend on the transition to county control or finalized the count of new staffers, but officials plan to have 60 hired in August to start the process.

“We will need to look at how many inmates we will be housing at Harwell and in the interim, our first goal is to get things cleaned up,” Garrett said. “We will be painting, waxing floors and keeping the facility clean, educating inmates on what our policies are and making sure we have well-trained and educated staff over there to keep everyone safe.”

The starting salary for jailers is estimated at $40,310 a year. The position requires a high school diploma or GED, and the minimum age is 18. New hires will go through an eight-week training academy before they start a six-month probationary period. After 18 months on staff, employees will be eligible to apply to attend the McLennan Community College Police Academy at the county’s expense.

As many as 40 LaSalle employees working at Harwell, who already have a jailer license, have expressed interest in joining county jail staff, said jail Lt. Karen Anderson, who is overseeing the county’s communication with LaSalle.

“We got immediate feedback about interest in coming over here,” Anderson said. “We’ve met with different shifts over there, and the response has been really good. But everyone is still trying to figure out what is best for them as we move forward.”

County commissioners announced in May of last year that they were considering taking over operation of Harwell, when the contract with LaSalle increased from about $6.1 million per year to $8 million.

Since the county announced last year it was considering the move to take over Harwell, the facility has failed three state inspections. It passed its latest inspection in May after the state issued a remedial order, which could have resulted in a limit on Harwell’s inmate count if it had also failed the May inspection.

Harwell was built as an overflow facility for McLennan County Jail, but Harwell’s profitability for the companies that have run it has depended largely on the number of federal inmates housed there on a contract basis.

As of late last week, Harwell housed 646 inmates, including 168 federal inmates, 335 McLennan County inmates and 143 from other agencies. McLennan County Jail housed a total of 729 inmates.

Initial plans indicated McLennan County would house federal inmates and local inmates in both jails after the transition. Contracts for Harwell to house inmates from neighboring counties expire in September and likely will not be renewed after the transition. The county has plans to expand mental health and reintegration services using space at Harwell.

“We are planning to expand mental health services for people at Jack Harwell, because there are classrooms set up next door that will be used for that,” Lt. Karen Anderson said. “There will be a transition period, but we will be ready for the move.”

Applications for McLennan County Sheriff’s Office can be found at www.co.mclennan.tx.us/770/Current-Job-Openings.

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Kristin Hoppa has been covering public safety and breaking news for the Tribune-Herald since January 2016. She worked in Northwest Missouri covering crime-related issues before her move to Central Texas. She is a University of Kansas graduate.

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