Ditching federal inmates would mean $7.5 mil loss for El Paso County, study finds

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POSTED: Monday, August 4, 2014 - 9:32pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, August 6, 2014 - 2:43pm

El Paso County could lose $7.5 million if it decides to stop housing federal inmates at county detention facilities. That's according to the preliminary results of a study presented at Monday's Commissioners Court meeting.

The county has been taking a closer look at the efficiency of the downtown detention facility and jail annex in Far East El Paso.

But the study's math doesn't exactly gel with everyone at the county courthouse.

Precinct 3 County Commissioner Vince Perez isn't shy with his opinion. He thinks El Paso County should get out of the business of housing federal prisoners. No questions.

"I don't think taxpayers want to subsidize the federal government's responsibility," Perez told NewsChannel 9.

The county houses an average of 648 federal inmates at any given time, most of them downtown. According to Perez, sheltering and feeding the inmates at that facility costs the county $100 per day.

The federal government, he says, reimburses the county for 70 of those dollars.

"If they're unwilling to pay us what it costs to provide that service, then they can go seek that service somewhere else," Perez said Monday.

Sheriff Richard Wiles, who oversees the county's jail system and its budget, disagrees.

"There's a lot of fixed costs that are going to be in the jail whether we house federal prisoners or not," Wiles said. "The federal prisoners help support that cost."

Wiles added that other facilities in the region are already eyeing the federal inmates and the funding they bring with them.

"There are two private jails close by," Wiles said, "One is in Otero County and one is in Sierra Blanca. They want those prisoners; they will take them today."

Perez said he takes issue with the math behind the $7.5 million figure and feels that federal inmates or no federal inmates, the county is still spending too much on its jails and might be overstaffed.

"Spending $72 million a year on a jail when a larger city such as San Antonio spends far less than we do? That's something we need to evaluate," Perez said.

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