‘Zero-Tolerance’ Policy Leaves Ripple Effect On South Texas Jails

“We are having to compete with our federal government to house our county inmates.”

By Kristen CabreraJuly 26, 2018 7:26 am,

The Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy is still causing ripples in the Rio Grande Valley. Already overcrowded jails are left scrambling to find a place to house surplus inmates, Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra says.

“Currently we are having a little crisis right now,” Guerra says. “Because we are having to compete with our federal government to house our county inmates.”

Normally, the Hidalgo County Adult Detention Center would send inmates to a for-profit prison that the county partners with. But due to the “zero tolerance” policy those facilities are full.

“These prisons that the county government contracts with are now full of federal inmates with immigration violations and it’s causing counties like ours, Hidalgo County, to kind of scramble and find bed space and we are all competing for those bed spaces out there,” Guerra says. “And since the federal government pays more than county government, it’s putting a strain on us.”

Guerra says county officials have had to get creative to find alternatives to alleviate the overflow in inmates being held.

“One of our neighboring counties, which does not a contract with the federal government, we found some bed space in a small county north of us, Jim Hogg County,” Guerra says. “They are a 48-bed jail and they are giving us some beds there. We also have our neighbors to the west, Starr County. We signed a Memorandum of Understanding with them, they have 275 beds and we are going to start sending them inmates also.”

Hidalgo County has had trouble with overcrowding in its jail since it was build 15 years ago.

“We have a 1,232-bed facility, it’s a maximum security, the largest maximum security detention center south of San Antonio and it was build in 2003,” Guerra says. “It was originally planned to be a 2,000-bed jail but at the time county government decided to save some money and they knocked around 700 beds off that initial plan and we’ve been paying for it ever since.”