Houston’s Harris County tomorrow will begin shipping the first of as many as 400 prisoners to a private jail in northeast Louisiana, costing taxpayers up to $4 million over the next six months, says the Houston Chronicle. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office described the transfer to the West Carroll Detention Center in Epps, La., 400 miles from Houston, as an “emergency concept” aimed at dealing with a recent seasonal “surge” in the inmate population. Prisoner overcrowding and staffing shortages at the jail have plagued local leaders for years. Beginning in 2004, state inspectors found the county to be in noncompliance with the state-mandated staffing ratio of one guard for every 48 prisoners. On Tuesday, the Harris County Commissioners Court approved a noncompetitive bid contract with Shreveport-based Emerald Correctional Management.
As of yesterday, the Harris County Jail prisoner population was 9,974. Emerald was the lowest-priced facility available; the county will be charged $38 per day, per inmate for the first 300 prisoners. An official said the price parallels what it would have cost the county to pay jailers in overtime that would have been necessary for the prisoners to remain in the Harris County Jail.