The Ellis County Commissioners Court is scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. Thursday to discuss the option of turning the operations of the Ellis County jail over to a private jail management company. According to the agenda, commissioners also could vote to begin negotiations with one of the two private firms that have submitted bids.
While we applaud the commissioners for their willingness to explore new options in an effort to say taxpayer money, WE STRONGLY URGE THE COMMISSIONERS REJECT THIS PROPOSAL.
Earlier this summer, the commissioners appointed a special committee to evaluate the two bids for private jail management — Community Education Centers (CEC) and LaSalle Southwest Corrections. The committee was tasked with assisting the commissioners in performing due diligence on both firms. Hundreds of hours were spent conducting research, interviews and tours. The committee was then tasked with assigning each company a grade (on a 0-100 scale). CEC received a grade of 64.81 and LaSalle received a grade of 53.31. The committee was not given the option of making a recommendation to keep jail operations under the sheriff’s department, nor were they allowed to assign a grade to the existing jail operations in order to provide a level comparison.
During the court’s final meeting in July, the commissioners were only given the committee’s scores for CEC and LaSalle. Though the committee was created by the court to assist in the due diligence process, to date, no other information gathered by the panel has been presented to the commissioners.
In order to make an informed decision, the commissioners MUST know the entirety of the information gleaned from the committee. First and foremost, there are extreme discrepancies in the manner both bids estimate cost savings for the county. While both bids propose to save the county up to $500,000 annually on managing the county inmates, neither bid factors in several expenses the county will still be required to pay, such as health care and medicine for inmates. With costs taken into account, there is little to no savings for the county. Make no mistake, jail management is a for-profit business. Both of the submitted bids are written to ensure the economic viability and success of the company. If commissioners make a decision Thursday based on the face value of either bid, they will be entering into a long-term contract that will result in little to no savings, but very well could end up costing the county more than we are spending now. The only way for the county to benefit financially from privatization is for the winning company to contract out the empty jail beds to warehouse federal inmates and detainees.
There are multiple other reasons commissioners should reject this proposal. We pray the commissioners proceed with caution and wisdom in order to do what is best for our county. This issue is too important to make a quick decision based on incomplete data.