By Sahar Chmais
Inmate population is increasing, jail outsourcing costs are rising, but Hays County plans to hold the line on outsourcing costs during the next fiscal year.
In the 2019-2020 budget, $3.8 million was spent on sending Hays County inmates to other county jails, and the hope for this year was to zero out the outsourcing.
As the Hays County Jail undergoes an expansion and the county creates a Public Defender’s Office (PDO), Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra and Commissioner Lon Shell said it is possible to severely reduce spending on outsourcing inmates.
While the goal is to reduce spending on contract inmate detention, the Hays County Jail expansion is not finished as there continues to be more delays, and establishing a PDO is in its preliminary steps.
Becerra’s original proposition on outsourcing inmates for FY 2022 was to allocate $0. Given the options of a PDO and larger jail, Shell calculated that the county would need to spend about $878,000 on outsourcing inmates in FY 2022, which became the newly proposed amount for the budget.
On the other hand, the sheriff’s office is requesting a $2 million line item for outsourcing inmates during the upcoming fiscal year.
For the time being, the rate to outsource inmates has risen in the multiple county jails in contract with Hays County.
Commissioners were scrutinized by Dan Lyon, a resident who does not sit out a court meeting, on their planning. Lyon told commissioners that residents never had a chance to vote on the expansion of the Hays County Jail, which they knew was needed.
Voters approved the Hays County bond package to expand the jail in 2016.
In early jail expansion discussions, the county commissioners had the option to expand the jail to hold 1,000 beds, but instead, they voted on providing 603 beds. The jail can only fill 543 inmate beds because the Texas jail standards state that there has to be a 10% buffer of unfilled beds. Still, the Hays County Jail is undergoing construction and the Sheriff’s office said it does not know when it will be ready for use.
It costs approximately $80 to $100 per inmate, per day, to stay in the Hays County Jail.
Blanco and Burnet counties will enact a price increase for receiving Hays County inmates effective Oct. 1; that increase has been approved by the Hays County commissioners. Blanco County will increase rates from $45 per day, per inmate, to $52 and Burnet County will increase rates from $55 per inmate, per day, to $62.
On Aug. 17, Hays County began sending inmates to Red River County Jail, near the Texas-Oklahoma border, a round-trip of 12 hours. Red River can receive up to 20 inmates from Hays County, at the cost of $50 per inmate, per day.
Hays County contracted with Red River because other jails it outsources to have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks, according to the Hays County Sheriff’s Office.
Based on a trend which can be seen on the county’s jail dashboard , it may be expected that the number of inmates will begin to decrease. During the summer months, Hays County has more inmates than any other season, Shell said.
During the summer months, the Hays County inmate population reached over 600, but during the other seasons, the numbers were between the 400s and low 500s. Shell said the increase of inmate population can be attributed to more people visiting the county in the summer and more people coming through the interstate. County agencies arrest people who are not Hays County residents more often in the summer, he explained.
Even if the jail population becomes lower, Hays County continues to grow and will continue to need money for outsourcing inmates, Commissioner Walt Smith said.
Some inmates, like those in for murder charges or sexual assault with probable cause, will be in the facility for a long time, said Shell. But there are individuals in jail that can get through the system at a faster rate and it can start from the minute they get there, Shell added.
“There’s no way I can support a budget without outsourcing dollars,” Smith told other commissioners.
The proposed budget will give $878,000 to outsourcing inmates, but the budget will not be finalized until Sept. 21.