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Tarrant County to consider new, longer, more expensive contract with private prison

The Tarrant County Commissioner's held their weekly meeting in the Tarrant County Administration Building in downtown Fort Worth on March 14, 2023.
Emily Nava
/
KERA
Tarrant County Commissioners are considering a new contract with the Giles W. Dalby Correctional Facility in West Texas to help with overcrowding in the county jail.

Tarrant County is considering a new, longer contract with a private prison outside Lubbock, to hold Tarrant County jail inmates.

Last August, county commissioners used federal COVID relief money to approve a yearlong, $18 million contract with the Giles W. Dalby Correctional Facility, to hold a maximum of 432 people. County commissioners might renew that contract with Dalby for $22.5 million, paid for with more federal COVID relief money redirected from social services like affordable housing and childcare.

The local county jail system struggles with overcrowding and short staffing. There are more than 240 open detention officer positions, and that’s part of the reason the county needs to send people to Dalby, County Administrator G.K. Maenius said Tuesday.

"Our goal is to keep those beds full, because it relieves the pressure on our workforce here,” Maenius said. “A workforce that once again, for the last two to two-and-a-half years, has been working 52 to 60 hours a week."

The Dalby facility is in Garza County, 270 miles from Fort Worth, and it’s run by the Utah-based private prison company Management & Training Corporation. Harris County also sends jail inmates there.

The new proposed contract is $4.5 million more expensive than the first one because it will last longer than a year, Maenius said. But he couldn’t say how long, because he didn’t know how far the $22.5 million could stretch.

When the county first took on the contract with Dalby, the plan was to send inmates who had been convicted of crimes and were waiting for transport to state prisons, taking up space in the county jail.

If the new contract gets county commissioners’ approval, Tarrant County would also use Dalby to clear out sections of the main jail downtown, the Tarrant County Corrections Center, while it undergoes renovations. The HVAC system that extracts smoke out of the air in case of a fire is years overdue for replacement, Maenius said.

At commissioners’ regular meeting on Tuesday, dozens of people spoke against the reallocation of funding away from social services and into the Dalby contract.

“I just have to strongly object to sending $20 million to a for-profit prison, four hours away, as a way to solve this problem,” Fort Worth resident Byron Griffith said. “The problems with for-profit prisons have been well documented.”

In 2016, the U.S. Office of the Inspector General investigated the federal government’s use of private prisons, which at that time included Dalby. The report found that private prisons had more safety and security-related incidents per capita than federal government-run prisons.

In 2021, President Joe Biden issued an executive order to phase out all federal contracts with private prisons, to reduce “profit-based incentives to incarcerate.”

MTC operates Dalby and other prisons in the U.S., U.K. and Australia, but its highest concentration of facilities is in Texas, according to its website.

In July, the state cleared MTC of fraud after the company cut prisoners’ therapy services and collected millions in public money for care it didn’t provide, The Texas Tribunereported.

It’s unclear when Tarrant County Commissioners will consider the new contract with MTC. The original contract expires Sept. 30, according to county documents.

Got a tip? Email Miranda Suarez at msuarez@kera.org. You can follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaRSuarez.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Miranda Suarez is KERA’s Tarrant County accountability reporter. Before coming to North Texas, she was the Lee Ester News Fellow at Wisconsin Public Radio, where she covered statewide news from the capital city of Madison. Miranda is originally from Massachusetts and started her public radio career at WBUR in Boston.