County Sheriff justifies jail costs

Monica Cortez-KTSM
News

POSTED: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 - 8:58pm

UPDATED: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 - 10:45pm

El Paso tax payers may be paying the most in Texas to keep the county's jail system running.

But El Paso’s sheriff said there's a reason.

As NewsChannel 9 reported Monday, County Commissioner Vince Perez conducted research that revealed the county spends about $71 million to operate El Paso’s jail system.

That turns out to be nearly three times more than other counties around the state.

El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles said comparing our jails, to others in the state isn't as simple as apples to apples.

"I just worry that the information that came out in that article may not have included some information the public should know," said Wiles.

Sheriff Wiles said research released by Commissioner Perez on Monday didn't take into consideration some unique factors in El Paso County, such as operating two jail facilities.

"We have the cost of two kitchens and two laundries so those things do drive costs," said Wiles.

According to Perez’s report, El Paso county residents pay a little more than $86 per person toward jail facilities in comparison residents of Tarrant County, which has a population double that of El Paso pay just over $38 for jail facilities.

"Hopefully this information will lead us down a road where we can examine what are driving these costs I don't think we certainly should have the most expensive jail in Texas," said Perez.

But Wiles said the research doesn't emphasis the money the federal government reimburses the county for every federal inmate El Paso houses.

"If you take that 72 million and subtract the millions of dollars that we are reimbursed by federal government we drop way down the list," said Wiles.

According to the report, each inmate costs the county about $85 a day and the federal government reimburses only $70. That’s a difference of $15 lost every day that inmate remains in jail.

"Jails aren't a pleasant place, this jail doesn't have any extras. There aren't any weight rooms for the inmates, there's no big screen colored TV,” said Wiles. “The food is the basic requirements by law."

Wiles breaks the costs down further, adding inmate meals are between 68 to 75 cents per meal.

"The costs for running this jail are associated with running this jail are public safety costs, that are the number one priority of the county," he said.

The largest expense in both facilities, according to Wiles is staff, which makes up about 85 percent of the budget.

Perez said even with the federal money coming in, El Paso remains at the top of the list for the most taxes being paid for the jail facilities.

He said he will continue to further research on how to reduce these costs.

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