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Jefferson County suing City of Beaumont over cost of housing prisoners

City officials said the county has been overcharging them hundreds of thousands of dollars for years.

BEAUMONT, Texas — Jefferson County filed a lawsuit against the City of Beaumont in May of 2016, and now that case is set to head to trial in October unless a deal over the cost of housing prisoners can be reached.

According to a news release, city leaders feel that Jefferson County has been overcharging them hundreds of thousands of dollars for years.

The release went on to say city leaders believe this started 10 years ago.  They claim Jefferson County is charging them and the City of Port Arthur higher rates per day per prisoner than the cities of Nederland, Port Neches and Groves.  In 2011, Jefferson County offered to charge Nederland, Port Neches and Groves $55 per day, while offering to charge Beaumont and Port Arthur $75 per day.

City officials said they felt this was unfair and said all cities should be treated the same. The item is up for discussion at Tuesday's Jefferson County Commissioners meeting.

The city also has another issue with the county. City leaders are questioning when the responsibility of a prisoner transitions into the responsibly of the county.

According to the news release, city officials believe after a prisoner goes before a magistrate, and they are committed to jail, the prisoner should be the responsibility of the county. City leaders argue at that point the county should pay to house them. But, county officials believe Jefferson County cities should pay for the prisoner until they are formally indicted by the district attorney’s office.

Beaumont city officials said they do not know of any other Texas county within the 254 counties that does business like this, and they believe this is a practice used by Jefferson County to decrease their expenses and obligations under state law.

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From a City of Beaumont press release: 

Jefferson County sued the City of Beaumont in May of 2016 related to the cost of housing prisoners.  There is a pending case that is set for trial in October.

The City of Beaumont discovered approximately 10 years ago that Jefferson County was treating the cities of Nederland; Port Neches and Groves differently than they were Beaumont and the City of Port Arthur.  Jefferson County was charging a higher rate per day per prisoner for Beaumont and Port Arthur.  We felt this was unfair and wanted all cities to be treated the same.  The County moved forward and in 2011 entered into agreements with Nederland; Port Neches and Groves at a rate of $55.00 per day and offered the cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur a rate of $75.00 per day.  Of course this was a continuation of the difference in treatment.

The second issue, that has not been resolved, relates to when a prisoner becomes the “responsibility of the County,” at which point the expenses begin to be paid for by the County.   A prisoner goes before a Magistrate, usually within 24 hours of being arrested, and they are “committed” to jail if the paperwork is correct.  The City of Beaumont believes that when the prisoner is “committed” to jail, they are the responsibility of the County and the County should pay to house that prisoner.  Jefferson County wants the cities in Jefferson County to pay for the prisoner until they are formally charged by the District Attorney’s Office.  We are not aware of another county in Texas, out of 254 counties, that does business this way.  We believe this practice by Jefferson County is used to decrease their expenses and obligations under State Law.  The City of Beaumont believes Jefferson County is overcharging them hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

The last executed contract with Jefferson County related to the housing of prisoners was in 1986.  The City’s Administration works well with the District Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Department.  The County Judge and the Commissioner’s Court can resolve this matter and we sincerely hope they will.