The motion passed by a 3-2 margin on Aug. 30. Commissioners Gary Fickes and J.D. Johnson and County Judge Glen Whitley voted in favor of the contract. Commissioners Roy Charles Brooks and Devan Allen were opposed.
The Tarrant County Jail can safely handle 3,600 to 3,700 prisoners, but its capacity typically is between 4,400 to 4,500, according to sheriff's officials. A number of state inmates are being held there due to issues that came as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the inability to make jail transfers, officials said.
The new contract allows Tarrant County to send 432 state inmates to the Giles W. Dalby Correctional Facility in Post, Texas, which is about 40 miles south of Lubbock and 274 miles from Fort Worth. Garza County contracts with Management & Training Corp. to operate the facility, according to Tarrant County documents.
Sheriff Bill Waybourn said during the Aug. 30 commissioners meeting that a number of issues led to this contract.
The overcrowding, in part, is due to the nearly 800 inmates who are considered state prisoners—those awaiting transfer to state facilities, parole violators serving their time and mental health inmates who aren’t fit for trial.
Another reason for the need for the contract is the county's plan for HVAC replacement in July 2023 that would require deactivating between 400 and 500 beds at the Tarrant County Jail, according to Charles Eckert, executive chief deputy at the sheriff's office.
Tarrant County's Cold Springs Jail has 384 beds that may be used only for low-risk criminals. Waybourn said there are no county inmates eligible to be housed there.
The county is tapping into money it received as part of the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act to fund the contract.
Whitley said this contract forces Tarrant County to pay for inmates who belong to the state.
“[Tarrant County] taxpayers are paying millions in dollars that the state should be paying," Whitley said. "We are fixing to [give] $18 million to another corporation as opposed to spending the money here in Tarrant County."
Waybourn said jail employees are mandated to work a minimum of 52 hours per week and up to 60 hours because of the high number of inmates. There is a ratio of one officer for every 48 inmates, which has led to more than 6,000 hours of overtime each week, Eckert noted.
All 432 inmates being sent to the new facility will be on a "one-way ticket," meaning they will not return to Tarrant County Jail as they have already been sentenced, according to sheriff's officials.
Officials in Tarrant County and Harris County, which is near Houston, worked together to come up with similar agreements with Garza County to house state prisoners there. Harris County is expected to send up to 600 prisoners to the facility, according to Tarrant County discussions.
“A court slowdown has meant the catch-all has been county jails, and it has happened across the state,” Waybourn said.
Officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice are supposed to pick up prisoners from Garza County when they have openings at the state level, county officials said.
Within 28 days of the start of the contract, which was Aug. 30, Tarrant County may start sending inmates to Garza County. By December, the county expects to have filled the 432 beds it has contracted to use.