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Harris County inmate agreement undecided



By Sherry Koonce

The News staff writer

An interlocal agreement designed to ease inmate overcrowding in Harris County is back on the drawing board, waiting for yet another round of contract changes agreeable to both Jefferson and Harris counties.

Jefferson County Commissioners at their regular meeting Monday approved an interlocal agreement with Harris County to house a portion of that county’s inmates. Harris County’s jail is not large enough to accommodate the increasing influx of county prisoners, resulting in overcrowded conditions.

Though approved locally, Harris County officials have requested changes. The agreement will be considered again Thursday by Jefferson County commissioners once the document is reworked.

When the request was initially made a on July 22, Harris County had 1,000 prisoners beyond capacity. To be in compliance with state jail standards, Harris County must find alternate housing for the overflow inmates.

At the time, Jefferson County Commissioners declined to enter into an agreement because the language held Jefferson County responsible for services such as transporting the prisoners. Those duties are normally performed by GEO, a jail management company hired by Jefferson County to oversee operations of the downtown jail.

The GEO Group, a Florida-based corrections facility management company, was contracted by Jefferson County to manage the downtown jail after a new detention center was built on U.S. 69.

“This new agreement makes it clear that Jefferson County is the landlord, and GEO is the operator,” Branick said.

Fred Jackson, assistant to Jefferson County Judge Ron Walker, said Harris County officials took exception to the paragraph inserted about GEO.

For each Harris County prisoner housed here, GEO is expected to receive $42.50 per day. Of that amount, Jefferson County gets $9 per day.

Harris County inmates will began transfer here as soon as beds are available, once the agreement is signed by both parties. All of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice inmates currently housed in the Beaumont jail are expected to be transferred from the Beaumont jail into state prisons where overcrowding has eased.

By Aug. 31 the state was to have moved the TDCJ inmates from the downtown Beaumont jail, freeing up about 350 of the 450 beds at the facility. The other 100 are used by U.S. Marshal prisoners awaiting appearance in federal court, Mitch Woods, Jefferson County sheriff, said.

Jefferson County Commissioners also on Monday rescinded a burn ban in effect since June when much of the state began experiencing drought conditions.

County Judge Ron Walker said recent rains were enough to allow outdoor burning in the non-incorporated areas of the county.

Hardin and Orange counties lifted burns bans this past week.

Though 5.10 inches of precipitation has fallen during the month of July. much of the state remains under a burn ban, according to the Texas Forest Service Web site. The National Weather Service’s Lake Charles office reported the Port Arthur area is still 6.83 inches below normal rainfall amounts.

More rain is forecast through the weekend with the best chance Tuesday at 70 percent.

skoonce@panews.com