County

The County Argues Unfair Competition By Releasing Public Documents

On January 12, 2021, El Paso Politics submitted an open records request to the county judge and the county commissioners asking for any documents related to the U.S. Marshals Service contract under which the county jails federal prisoners, most of which are immigrants and many of them asylum seekers.

As we reported on January 25, the County sent us a letter advising us that they had requested the Texas Attorney General to issue an opinion on whether they should release the documents we requested.

In their initial letter, the County advised us that they believed the records are “confidential”.

Late on Tuesday, we received another letter from the County. In this letter, the County included one responsive document and a copy of the brief they filed with the Texas Attorney General’s office.

The document that was released to us was a screenshot from what appears to be Precinct 2 commissioner David Stout’s telephone. It included a text message with web links to two KTSM stories; one about the curfew and the other about the federal jail contract. The screen shot appears to be a copy forwarded for archiving purposes as required under the public information law.

The County also included a copy of the brief they sent to the Texas Attorney General.

In the brief, the County argues that releasing the records “would harm” the county’s interests in the “ongoing contract negotiations” with the United States Marshals Service for the jail contract. According to the brief, “the County of El Paso is a competitor in the marketplace.”

The Jailing Immigrants Marketplace

The County acknowledges that the contract negotiations are between two governmental entities, the County and the U.S. federal government. “The United States Marshals Service decides where to place the contract based on pricing,” argues the County in their brief.

“Release of the submitted information would supply competitors with information needed to determine profit levels being achieved by the County of El Paso.”

The County, in essence, is arguing that keeping federal prisoners in the county jail is lucrative to the County.

Many immigrants are jailed by the federal government in El Paso. Nationally there is an ongoing debate about the use of private prisons for holding immigrants. In other words, there is a marketplace in El Paso for jailing immigrants at the local jail.

The Contract

According to the County’s budget report dated June 30, 2020, the County is jailing federal prisoners for the Marshals Service under Intergovernmental Agreement, No. 80-99-0067.

Our review of the County’s annual budget disclosures show that the contract was most recently modified in FY2015 and an additional fee for court guards to monitor federal prisoners at court hearings was added last year.

The County does not break out the U.S. Marshals Service revenues in its budget reports. Instead, the 2021 proposed budget states that the County is expected to receive $7,674,434 in the next fiscal year from intergovernmental agreements. This is the third largest source of income for the County, after taxes ($247 million) and charges for services ($35 million).

However, on January 11, El Paso Politics reported that the County was renegotiating the U.S. Marshals Service contract. Approval of the proposed contract would have raised the daily $80 per prisoner per day under the existing agreement to $101.

According to the backup material in the County’s January 4, 2021 agenda, the United States Marshals Contract is the “third-largest source of revenue behind property and sales taxes.”

The county commissioners postponed action on the contract twice – first on January 4 and then on January 11. The County has refused to release details of the agreement, however the backup material provided to the county commissioners suggest that the County expected to generate about $92 million, over four years.

It remains unclear where in the County’s budget the Marshal’s contract is reported.

Calculations Do No Reconcile With County Budget

The County’s budget, as noted above, expects about $8 million in FY2021 from intergovernmental contracts. However, the backup material provided to county commissioners states that the County could receive $92 million over four years in additional income if they approve the proposed contract.

El Paso Politics calculated (see below) that the County currently is paid about $18 million annually under the existing contract. This would be about $10 million more than the County’s budget reports as its “third-largest” source of income.

The January 4, 2021 agenda item states that the County of El Paso is paid $80 per day under the existing agreement.

The Competitors

The County has argued that disclosing the information would provide unfair competition to other entities wanting to house federal prisoners. El Paso Politics reviewed a contract with Dona Ana County Detention Center in Las Cruces, obtained under open records. The March 19, 2013 agreement states that the Dona Ana County Detention Facility can house 250 male prisoners and 20 female prisoners for $62 per day for each.

We also reviewed a 2007 agreement with Otero County in Chaparral, New Mexico. In this agreement, the Marshals Service pays $54 per prisoner per day. Chaparral can house between “600-800” prisoners, according to the contract.

A 2013 agreement for Bexar County bills $64.94 per prisoner per day and has a capacity of 684 of which 622 are male and 62 are female.

In 2007, Sierra Blanca agreed to jail up to “40,000” federal prisoners for $36.00 per day per prisoner.

The United States Marshals Service released the above contract details via open records requests.

How Much Is The Contract Worth?

The County’s January 4, 2021 agenda item allows us to extrapolate details about the contract and how much it is worth to the County. The agenda items states that the proposed $101 rate would generate $19.2 million more over the four years of the contract.

Taking the difference between the proposed $101 and the current $80 we know that the proposal increases the rate per prisoner by $21. The County’s material states that the proposal would generate $19.2 million over four years in additional revenue, or $4,800,000 per year.

Knowing that the difference is $21 per prisoner per day we can extrapolate that the County bills for jailing 228,571 prisoners annually. This gives us an approximate average of 623-626 federal prisoners per day at the county jail.

Readers should note that this approximation does not include calculating other fees, like security during court hearings, the County generates from the Marshals contract.

Regardless we know that the County expects “approximately $92 million over a four-year term” from the proposed negotiated contract.

Thus, we can extrapolate that the County currently generates about $18 million for jailing federal prisoners.

To verify our assumptions, we took the County’s estimate of generating an increase of 26.25% and compared it to our calculations and we arrived at a figure of 22%, thus our calculations are valid.

The County makes almost $50,000 each day for jailing federal prisoners, most of which are immigrants.

It should also be noted that our analysis of other jail contracts near El Paso suggests that the County of El Paso is charging more than the surrounding government-run jails.

Sierra Blanca bills the U.S. Marshals Service about $36 while Bexar County bills around $65 per prisoner per day.

Clearly, El Paso’s rate at the current $80 is higher than the competitors.

Why The Secrecy?

El Paso Politics submitted the open records request to better understand the driving mechanism for keeping a contract that seems to go against the stated policy of protecting immigrants in El Paso. We already knew the general financial details and our analysis shows that the financial competitiveness of the contract negotiations can be extrapolated from publicly available documents.

In their brief to the Attorney General’s office requesting that they be allowed to withhold the documents we requested, the County writes that the information we requested “contains information on the values placed on certain services as well as general discussions regarding strategy and contract negotiating positions that will likely result in El Paso County being underbid by competitors.”

The County adds that contract “negotiations remain on-going and no contract has been finalized.”

El Paso Politics has submitted additional open records requests to other relevant agencies and will report when the Texas Attorney General rules on the County’s request.

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Help Us To Bring You News No One Else Reports

We are on a mission to deliver the news and information important to you. Information that no one else is covering. We believe that public policy is grounded an informed citizenry. We provide information based on analytical analysis that is well-sourced to allow readers to understand the policy decisions that affects their lives. We keep our reporting open to give everyone access to our reports. We are self-funded. This allows us to be independent and we are not influenced by stakeholders on how and what we report.

Help us to keep this resource available to everyone. Your support allows us to fund the site and pay for the research we use to bring important topics to your attention. Support our project by making a small donation today.

Help Us To Bring You News No One Else Reports

We are on a mission to deliver the news and information important to you. Information that no one else is covering. We believe that public policy is grounded an informed citizenry. We provide information based on analytical analysis that is well-sourced to allow readers to understand the policy decisions that affects their lives. We keep our reporting open to give everyone access to our reports. We are self-funded. This allows us to be independent and we are not influenced by stakeholders on how and what we report.

Help us to keep this resource available to everyone. Your support allows us to fund the site and pay for the research we use to bring important topics to your attention. Support our project by making a small donation today.

Help Us To Bring You News No One Else Reports

We are on a mission to deliver the news and information important to you. Information that no one else is covering. We believe that public policy is grounded an informed citizenry. We provide information based on analytical analysis that is well-sourced to allow readers to understand the policy decisions that affects their lives. We keep our reporting open to give everyone access to our reports. We are self-funded. This allows us to be independent and we are not influenced by stakeholders on how and what we report.

Help us to keep this resource available to everyone. Your support allows us to fund the site and pay for the research we use to bring important topics to your attention. Support our project by making a small donation today.

Choose an amount

$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00

Or enter a custom amount

$

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.