The inmate population at La Paz County Detention facility doubled on Thursday from just over 70 inmates to over 140.
The jail received 70 inmates Thursday from the federal government in response to the closure of a private prison in San Luis, AZ. It is not known how long the arrangement will be in place or if it represents a permanent change or just a temporary one.
The news comes at a good time for La Paz County, which is suffering in the middle of a widely-acknowledged financial crisis. The federal government will pay the County around $65 per inmate per day under short-term contract, typically undocumented immigrants in various stages of federal proceedings which often end in deportation.
“This is definitely good for us,” Jail Commander Suffle told Parker Live. “Normally I’m calling [the U.S. Marshals] to let them know we’re still here and ready, this time they called me and said, ‘We need your help.'”
The San Luis Regional Detention and Support Center, a private for-profit 960 bed facility operated by a Louisiana-based prison company, has been reportedly operating at a $2 million loss as the number of immigrant detainees dropped in recent years. The lucrative federal contracts that prompted the building of the facility has not panned out the way the company hoped. The person at the facility responsible for media relations was not available to talk Thursday, according to the person who answered the phone.
In August 2016 the Justice Department announced it would be phasing out its contracts with private prisons, and the Department of Homeland Security followed suit in September, announcing a decision to reexamine its use of private facilities. Although those decisions don’t directly affect facilities like San Luis which contracts with other agencies, long-term the trend would seem to potentially benefit counties like La Paz, which has a publicly-owned facility built to accommodate federal inmates.
“It’s excellent news, even in the short term,” said County Supervisor D.L. Wilson. “I’m still not sure what the long-term outlook for that is, so we need to continue with getting our finances in order and having a sustainable long-term plan, but there’s no doubt this is good news.”
Wilson told Parker Live that the Board of Supervisors has two main areas of priority: getting the Jail District into a position where it doesn’t cost an estimated $150,000 per month, and getting the County’s other finances into a sustainable shape. Each inmate is paid for at approximately $65 per day, according to Suffle, a total of $4550 for the current influx. A back-of-the-napkin estimate indicates that the revenue over 30 days, if the numbers were sustained, would come to around $136,500, but some associated costs would need subtracted.
According to Suffle, the number of inmates coming to La Paz County from the federal government could go up, or could go down from here. He said he wanted to make it as attractive an option for the feds as possible, opening up the possibility of conversations about transportation and court arrangements. When asked if he is regarding this as an ‘audition’ in hopes of a more permanent contract, Suffle replied, “Absolutely.”
Sheriff’s Captain Curt Bagby said he hopes this will create a little space for the Supervisors to consider their options financially. “We hope this will help at least in the short term and that they can consider the more drastic options with a little more space now,” he said.