Two weeks after threatening litigation against GEO Corporation in a commissioners court meeting, Liberty County Attorney Matthew Poston says GEO’s contract to operate the county jail will remain in effect for the next two years.
Talks of litigation against the Florida-based privatized corrections corporation began earlier this summer after the county received notice that GEO was terminating its contract for the county jail operations two years before the end of the contract.
“Their notice said they were going to shut down operations at the jail on Sept. 30. There was a three-year original term that gave us the right to extend the contract for two years,” Poston said. “We exercised that right in February before things went off the rails, so to speak.”
On Aug. 7, Poston, County Judge Jay Knight, Pct. 2 Commissioner Greg Arthur, County Auditor Dwayne Gott and parties from GEO sat down to hammer out how the contract could be extended, thereby avoiding costly litigation for both parties.
“We’re happy they decided to stay on and be our partners. It was the best deal for them financially, which also means the county got a very good deal because we avoided litigation,” he said. “GEO certainly didn’t want to get a reputation of running out on a contract.”
The county’s original contract with GEO was for a three-year term with a two-year extension clause, according to Poston. The county agreed to pay $46.85 per inmate per day for the first three years. In the remaining two years of the contract, the price per inmate goes up slightly to $47.79 in the first extension year and $48.74 in the second extension year.
Every month, the county pays GEO between $250,000 to $300,000, depending on the numbers of the inmate population. If the population dips too low, operating the jail is not lucrative for GEO.
“Our daily average of jail inmates is 239 based on numbers from 2016-17. In March 2018, the daily inmate number started declining slightly and dropped as low as 74 percent of the benchmark year numbers but the months before and after that were at 80 percent,” Poston said. “That’s why the contract says for three consecutive months it has to drop in order for GEO to terminate the contract early.”
Roughly 190-200 inmates are in the jail at any given time awaiting trials on felony charges, Poston said.
“That’s one of the biggest hurdles we face in trying to cut jail costs. My office has added prosecutors, the DA’s office has added prosecutors and the sheriff’s office has added investigators,” the county attorney said.
Even with all the efforts they make to plea-bargain with defendants and try them quickly, Poston said the cases bottle-neck in the court system.
“There is only so much court time that our three judges have to hear these cases,” he said. “It is certainly a good argument for another county court at law. That would allow the district judges to hear the felony cases and not lose time with divorces and other cases that can be handled in Judge [Tommy] Chamber’s court.”
Prior to signing the contract with GEO, the county looked into operating the jail through the sheriff’s office. A study showed that it would have cost the county significantly more, roughly around $70 per inmate per day, Poston said.
By Vanesa Brashier, firstname.lastname@example.org