On Sunday, El Paso County Commissioner Vince Perez said he wants to terminate a contract with the federal government that gives the county money to hold federal inmates.
According to Perez, under the agreement which he voted for in 2012, El Paso County gets $80 per day per inmate.
However, the cost to house an inmate at the downtown detention center is $120 per day. Perez says the difference has cost taxpayers $17 million since 2012.
Perez made the announcement during a press conference and said, “For three years now, my office has been diving into this issue, as best as we can, and we feel very confidently we can provide a recommendation to the court.”
He also said “Here in El Paso County the jail system is the single largest expenditure for the county budget with approximately $70 million in expenditures this year alone.”
Additionally, El Paso County houses more federal inmates than any other Texas county, according to data from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
According to the commission, El Paso County housed 693 federal inmates in May 2017.
Meanwhile, the next closest county, Johnson County, housed 246.
El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar told NewsChannel 9 that terminating the contract has been part of an “ongoing conversation” but she’s waiting on more information from staff before making a decision.
However, El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles opposed the idea and said terminating the contract would cost the jail about 200 jobs.
Wiles said, “Let’s say, hypothetically, that there is a small cost difference between what the feds are paying us and what it’s costing us – we’re creating jobs.”
Perez said, “This contract is a wasteful use of taxpayer funds that ultimately harms the community because it diverts critical resources that could be used more effectively address other critical needs in the county.”
When asked how this impacts the county’s standing with SB4, a law passed last month which looks to eliminate sanctuary cities in Texas, Perez said SB4 and the contract are two separate issues.
If the contract is terminated, the federal government would have to look for another place to house federal inmates, including undocumented immigrants that get arrested.
According to the El Paso County Jail, 72 percent of the inmates booked between 2014 and 2017 were facing immigration-related charges.
Perez said he plans on putting the contract discussion on the commissioners’ agenda in the near future.