It was two weeks ago when the Insite first reported Harris County was considering shipping inmates out of county and state to make room in the jail. Houston Chronicle reporters were on the case and breaks the latest in this saga. The jail is shipping 400 inmates to Louisiana. Here’s Steve McVicker’s report:
Harris County on Friday will begin shipping the first of as many as 400 of its prisoners to a private jail in northeast Louisiana, costing taxpayers up to $4 million over the next six months.
An official with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday described the transfer to West Carroll Detention Center in Epps, La., as an “emergency concept” aimed at dealing with a recent seasonal “surge” in the inmate population.
But prisoner overcrowding and staffing shortages at the jail have plagued local leaders for years.
Beginning in 2004, state inspectors found the county to be in noncompliance with the state-mandated staffing ratio of one guard for every 48 prisoners.
In May, the county finally passed state muster.
On July 5, the sheriff’s office notified the Texas Commission on Jail Standards that it would need to transfer up to several hundred prisoners in order to maintain compliance.
Munoz acknowledged, however, that the agency — which monitors the operations of county jails in Texas — has no authority to inspect the Louisiana facility.
On Tuesday, the Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously approved the noncompetitive bid contract with the owner of the facility, Shreveport-based Emerald Correctional Management. Texas local government code allows for exemptions to competitive bidding where “an item (is) necessary to preserve or protect the public health or safety of the residents of the county.”
Harris County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Mike Smith said the department selected the private jail — about 400 miles from Houston — because it was the only such facility in the area that could house all the inmates the county intends to transfer.