Preliminary discussions are currently underway in Rockwall County to expand the near-capacity jail for the third time in 11 years, to keep up with demand as well as to compete for lucrative federal contracts which would help pay for the expansion.
The next expansion could be the largest ever, possibly doubling capacity to more than 500 beds.
County commissioners have recently heard presentations from two firms hoping to win the expansion contract. Both estimates propose adding 288 beds, ranging from $18 million to $27.3 million.
The jail was built in the late 1980s. Additions in 1997 and 2000 increased the size to 241 beds, but those filled quickly.
A 2006 report by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards instructed Rockwall County to either add more beds to meet demand or face the additional expense to lease beds and transport inmates elsewhere.
County Judge Chris Florance said that in a two-month period last year, Rockwall spent $30,000 exporting inmates.
“We’re in a position now where if we don’t start thinking about this issue, we’re going to have to start shipping our prisoners out – a lot more than we did last time – and it’ll cost the county a lot of money.”
Rockwall Co. Sheriff Harold Eavenson said earlier expansions created temporary excess capacity, which allowed the county to lease some beds to federal agencies and neighboring counties.
“From 2002 to 2006, when we had extra space, we made about $1.1 million for the county contracting out bed space.”
The sheriff said he hoped the county could reopen that revenue stream with the next expansion. He said that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials scouted the jail this month and that the U.S. Marshals service is interested for temporarily housing detainees.
County Commissioners Lorie Grinnan and David Magness said they are intrigued with the idea of generating dollars from the outside to help pay for the facility’s costs but want to hold discussions with County residents before moving forward.
Judge Florance said he would likely schedule additional discussions this Fall.