Ellis County Sheriff Johnny Brown is to be commended for his action Thursday when he effectively put an end to a movement calling for the privatization of the county jail.
By refusing to relinquish control of the jail to a private jail management company, Brown’s action prevented the county from heading down a slippery slope we believe would have been disastrous.
Throughout the nation (as well as Texas), private jail management companies have come under fire for a myriad of problems that plague for-profit jail operations — including problems that threaten public safety in the communities they operate. In fact, many government entities that have experimented with private jail management are moving away from the practice.
With so much information available highlighting the problems of the private jail management industry, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever for Ellis County to even consider this as a viable option. Especially when you factor in that our current jail operations (overseen by the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office) meets and exceeds state jail standards and has an impeccable record for public safety. Why the sudden urge to change?
In a word, profit.
The only problem with that equation is the for-profit private jail management companies are the only ones who stand to gain.
When the county submitted a request for bids this spring, only two companies responded. Both bids purportedly claimed to save the county several hundred thousand dollars a year on managing the county’s inmates. But unless you read the fine print buried deed inside the proposal books will you discover the bids do not cover “extras,” such as healthcare cost for the inmates, medicine costs for the inmates, and in some cases, transportation costs for the inmates — all expenses that are included in the county’s $69.50 per inmate/per day costs. When these “extras” that the county will still be required to pay are factored in, there is little to no savings for the county — and in all likelihood, the county very well could have ended up paying more under a private jail management contract. Now factor in all of the problems that continue to plague the for-profit private jail management industry throughout the nation and we have a recipe for disaster — of our making.
While the sheriff’s stand prevented the commissioners from voting on jail privatization, only Commissioner Paul Perry had spoken against private jail management during Thursday’s special meeting.
Thankfully, Sheriff Brown had the courage and fortitude to stand above the political fray and do the right thing for the citizens of Ellis County by telling the commissioners court that our justice system is not for sale and to keep their hands off of our jail.
With the commissioners court getting ready to begin their annual budget process, Sheriff Brown’s actions no doubt painted a giant political bulls-eye on his department. We can only hope the commissioners court follows his example of putting the best interest of our county above politics. Sheriff Brown did the right the thing. All of us, especially the commissioners court (whether they realize it or not), owe him a huge debt of gratitude.