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Commissioners were going to hire an outside jail consultant, but the Bexar County Sheriff already did

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio

Commissioners Court is heading towards a showdown over the Bexar County Jail as it considers hiring consultants to evaluate the facility a week after the sheriff hired his own.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar announced last week that he would hire two consultants from Detain Incorporated to analyze the jail.

The hire came as a shock to the county judge and Commissioners Court members who said they had been going through a deliberative process and shortlist of companies to hire for the same job.

As a result, the sheriff’s hires from Detain Inc. may get company.

Commissioner Trish DeBerry was not satisfied with the sheriff’s choice of Detain Inc. She said the organization was not on the shortlist of companies the county had been considering for the same job.

In an interview with TPR, she called the move a distraction.

“The sheriff is masterful at deflection,” DeBerry said, pointing to continuing issues with large overtime bills, staffing challenges and a recent story from TPR.

Just a couple of hours before the sheriff’s office announced the hiring of consultants to give a "top to bottom assessment of our jail operations,” TPR had run a story showing Bexar County Adult Detention unjustly held a man for an additional five months.

DeBerry proposed hiring American Correctional Consultants to evaluate the jail saying she didn’t trust the sheriff’s hire to be independent of the sheriff.

“We’ve been in the process of finding a real change agent at the jail,” she said of ACC and its founder Keith Neely.

Constitutionally the jail is solely under the sheriff’s office, and funding is approved by the Commissioners Court.

Salazar said in a press conference Monday that he knew he may have surprised some people but “had a job to do,” and that some people “were just gonna stand opposed to anything that I do,” in a reference to DeBerry who has been a vocal critic of the sheriff’s administering of the jail.

Both DeBerry and Salazar are arguing their choice is the right one, the cost effective one, the others are wasting time and money.

“I would hate to see us duplicate efforts cost taxpayer dollars and then maybe he tells us maybe tells us the exact same thing that Detain Inc already told us and yet we spent $20,000 of taxpayer funds,” said Salazar.

DeBerry called Salazar’s choice a “knee-jerk” reaction. Ultimately, it is a matter of trust, and right now she doesn’t feel very trusting towards the sheriff.

“We have a crisis at the jail of immense proportion,” DeBerry said. “We want to bring the best resources to the table… but I’ve got to see a real strategy, and I’ve never seen one.”

Both consultants will be present either remotely or in-person to answer questions from commissioners if asked. Which is good for the sheriff who may need to change minds, since the company was not on many commissioners' radars.

“He said he was hiring one who I don’t really know anything about so I don’t know if it’s going to make any difference,” said Judge Nelson Wolff last week, calling the hire a surprise.

The jail has struggled to keep up with the growing number of inmates. As of Oct. 1, the jail had 4,500 incarcerated, a number that was 88% of capacity. One expert TPR consulted on this issue said when you get about 80%, it comes very difficult to manage — and nearly impossible to separate people.

Bexar County Jail — like jails across the state — have been facing large populations and staff retention issues that have led to overtime issues. The county ended the last fiscal year paying more than $10 million in overtime. The issue has been a strong point of contention between the commissioners court and the sheriff who will have to go to them again Tuesday for more overtime money.

"One of the hardest jobs in the county if not the state is running a jail," said Justin Rodriguez, another Bexar County commissioner.

He said he didn't blame the Sheriff for trying to find his own solutions for the jail. Administration of the jail has been a long standing issue.

Commissioners will vote Tuesday to whether to approve $19,950. The sheriff has agreed to spend $49,980 in funding from seized assets.

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Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org