McLennan County officials said the 200 detainees U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement promised to the county’s private jail didn’t come.
Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Cawthon said ICE told the county the detainees would be delivered to the Jack Harwell Detention Center on Highway 6 at the end of July, but none arrived.
Harwell warden James Duke said he has offered 300 of the center’s 833 beds to the federal agency, but he doesn’t know when to expect them to be filled.
“The thing with immigration is this facility is only an overflow facility. So basically, we can’t expect (detainees) unless (ICE) needs us for overflow beds, and there’s no way we can predict that,” he said. “Dealing with (ICE), it’s got to be on their time and on their need.”
Duke said the Harwell center could receive inmates if the five San Antonio ICE district facilities were filled.
LaSalle Corrections, a private company, took over the Harwell center in May from New Jersey-based Community Education Centers Inc. because of LaSalle’s reputation for bringing federal inmates to their facilities, County Judge Scott Felton said.
LaSalle’s contract with the county is three years with the option of an additional two years.
LaSalle managing member Billy McConnell said the company is losing money on the Harwell contract.
He said if there are not enough federal, state or county inmates to fill the facility,
the company would evaluate whether Harwell is worth keeping open.
But McConnell said that isn’t a consideration until the last year of the contract, and the company meanwhile is actively pursuing ways to fill its beds.
The Harwell center needs the revenue from housing about 650 inmates for it to cover its bills, McConnell said.
Precinct 4 Comissioner Ben Perry said there are about 350 county inmates now at Harwell.
Revenue earned at Harwell first goes to paying down the county’s $49 million bond. Perry said LaSalle pays about $4.2 million toward the bond and its interest per year.
This delay in housing any federal detainees continues to strain the county’s budget as it pays for overflow inmates. The county can house about 931 inmates at the McLennan County Jail on Highway 6 and when it’s at full capacity, additional inmates stay at the Harwell center.
Perry said if LaSalle could bring in enough inmates to fill Harwell, then the county’s overflow inmates would go to the county’s downtown jail, which is closed.
LaSalle also would manage the downtown jail if the Harwell center were full, but the county would get a discount on its overflow prisoners housed there, Perry said.
It costs the county $51 a day to house prisoners at the McLennan County Jail on Highway 6, and it pays LaSalle $45.50 a day for prisoners to stay at the Harwell facility. ICE would pay LaSalle $55 day to house its detainees at the Harwell facility.
The county has spent $2.2 million more than its $3 million 2013 budget for overflow prisoners, Perry said.
County Auditor Stan Chambers said in previous budget sessions the money allotted for inmate care and indigent defense is enough to cover July and August, but he is combing the budget to look for excess to pay September’s bills.
At the end of July, there was only about $785,000 left in contingency, he said.
“You need to be very careful about your decisions going forward because we’re going to need that to fund these two line items,” he said.