Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday will consider a $25 million agreement to send jail inmates to the Giles Dalby Correctional Facility, a prison located in Post, a small Texas city near Lubbock.

In January, the county shipped hundreds of inmates to a facility in Louisiana. Now, the county could approve an agreement to send inmates to an additional facility 475 miles away from Houston.

Harris County has struggled for years with overcrowding at the downtown jail. Though Sheriff Ed Gonzalez managed to eliminate outsourcing inmates early in his first term in 2017, the county later returned to outsourcing while grappling with a court backlog in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. In 2018, the county housed inmates at both the Fort Bend County Jail and Jackson Parish Correctional Facility in Louisiana at a cost of nearly $1 million per month, over the objection of defense attorneys who said the 300-mile distance to the Louisiana facility interfered with their ability to represent their clients.

The outsourcing agreement is intended to alleviate overcrowding at the jail, which currently has 9,990 inmates, with 594 inmates outsourced to another facility. Of those, 8,109 inmates are awaiting trial. The median length of stay is 101 days, according to the sheriff’s department.

The Harris County jail has 10,566 beds, but 1,072 beds only accommodate minimum risk inmates, leaving 9,494 beds available for the majority of the population, according to Chief Shannon Herklotz, who oversees the jail.

“I just don’t have any available beds to put inmates that are coming in. So, the rate they’re coming in is exceeding the rate they’re going out. I’m just out of room,” Herklotz said.

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According to the Commissioners Court agenda, the Dalby facility is the only one in Texas that currently has the staff and beds to accommodate new inmates.

In May, Garza County Judge Lee Norman announced Darby would transition from a privately-managed federal prison to a county jail, with plans to offer the 1,096-bed facility as a place to hold other counties’ inmates, Lubbock’s KBCD 11 reported.

Tarrant County also is working with the Darby facility to house inmates from its crowded jail. According to the yet-to-be-finalized agreement, Harris County will gain an additional 600 beds and Tarrant County will gain 400 beds. The cost per inmate per day could reach $98.

Overcrowding is not the only reason for the deal. The jail is required to meet minimum state staffing levels, county Budget Director Daniel Ramos said.

When the jail population is around 9,900 or above, the county reaches the limit of the staffing ratio.

Combined, Harris County’s existing contract with the LaSalle Detention Center in Louisiana and the new contract with the Giles Dalby Correctional Facility in Post will cost nearly $40 million, the equivalent to hiring around 400 additional law enforcement officers, according to Ramos.

The county will use American Rescue Plan Act funding to pay for the outsourcing of inmates.

Ramos said spending more on jail capacity is concerning: “This is financially unsustainable, especially given the state revenue caps.”

The LaSalle contract ends in December, but likely could be extended. The contract for the Darby facility would last through September 2023.

Rather than increasing the number of jail beds, the county needs to spend money on solutions to eliminate the case backlog, Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said.

“Using taxpayer dollars to add even more capacity to the third largest jail in America doesn’t make us safer,” Ellis said. “It just makes us more reliant on a system that is failing. Instead, we must ramp up the systemic changes that we’ve made in Harris County, like our Violence Interruption Program and Holistic Assistance Response Teams, which are game-changing efforts to reduce the likelihood of residents’ engagement with the criminal legal system and makes our community safer.”

The $25 million contract does not include funding to help Harris County families make the eight-hour drive to visit their loved ones who will be incarcerated at the facility in Post.

Studies have shown that people who are able to maintain relationships with their loved ones during incarceration are less likely to cycle back into the system again, according to the Texas Center for Justice and Equity, an Austin-based group that advocates to end mass incarceration.

“Relocations like this mean that families who may not be able to afford bail would have to travel 500 miles to visit their loved ones — which will almost certain be impossible for many of them,” Maggie Luna, policy analyst and community outreach coordinator with TCJE, said. “And what about the harm this will do to children whose parents are behind bars?”

Herklotz said inmates transferred to the Post facility would be able to visit with family members via video conferencing.

The long distance adds to an already stressful situation for families, Luna said.

“People stuck in county jails, the majority of whom are in pretrial detention and are legally innocent, lose their jobs, housing, and support networks while they sit behind bars,” Luna said. “Being in jail already isolates people from their communities and causes undue stress onto their families, who may be struggling to come up with bail money while dealing with the loss of income and the trauma of having a loved one incarcerated.”

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