Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith is asking county officials to allow more federal inmates to be held in the Smith County Jail, and says doing so would be a financial windfall for the county.
Smith said the federal government is currently paying $45 per day per inmate for about a dozen federal inmates to live in the Smith County Jail. He said he wants the jail to hold 96 inmates and negotiate a higher reimbursement with the federal government of $60 per day per inmate.
Smith pitched the idea at Tuesday's meeting of the Smith County Commissioners Court. The court is the county government board that decides on policy issues. Nathaniel Moran, the county judge, told Smith to come back to a future meeting with a more formal proposal.
Smith told the court that, by his calculations, the county could net at least $1.1 million per year if officials are able to recruit all 96 federal inmates to live in the jail.
“We need to get more federal inmates to help pay for the debt,” Smith said in an interview on Tuesday. He added that bringing in federal inmates “is putting more money on us,” but “it's the right thing to do.”
Smith pointed to the nearby federal courthouse in downtown Tyler, where federal inmates often travel for court appearances. “We try most of the cases here in Tyler,” Smith said. “Why not house them here two blocks from the courthouse?”
Smith said federal inmates are fairly easy to take care of and that the inmates have often been convicted of white-collar crimes, drug crimes, and firearms offenses.
The county built the new Smith County Jail with a bond that voters approved in 2011 and finished construction in 2015. The county is still paying off the bond voters approved for the jail's construction.
Commissioner Jeff Warr said federal laws won't allow the county to house inmates in a jail that is still being paid off, but he said the county only has to make payments on the bond for the next three to four years.
Warr said the county may be able to house 60 or 70 federal inmates, up from the current dozen or so, and, “once it's paid off, you can put as many as you want in there.”
Moran said he was in looking deeper into Smith's proposal.
“It's a good idea that we need to look at and figure out whether or not it's economically beneficial to the citizens,” he said.
Smith said he has had the idea for about four years, but is getting traction.