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Jefferson County to end agreement with surrounding cities over inmate housing costs in county jail

Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick and Sheriff Zena Stephens said both sides have been in negotiations for some time, but a new agreement has not been reached.

BEAUMONT, Texas — Jefferson County commissioners have voted to end a long-standing contract they've had with local cities to house inmates at the county jail.

A lengthy feud over inmate costs led leaders to re-evaluate how the county does business with cities.

Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick and Sheriff Zena Stephens said both sides have been in negotiations for some time, but a new agreement has not been reached.

Jefferson County Auditor Patrick Swain said in the commissioner's court Tuesday that the county has had a contract in place with local cities dating as far back as 1986.

It outlined the costs that cities paid to house their inmates at the county jail. The City of Beaumont started paying 35 percent of the costs in 2011, and Port Arthur followed suit in 2014.

But, county leaders say that wasn't agreed upon.

"We've been working with the city of Beaumont for over ten years now, trying to reach some resolution of this issue," Branick said.

Now, the debt is piling up. Both cities owe a lot of money to the county. Stephens said she hopes that’s enough motivation to bring both sides to the bargaining table.

"What happened today in Commissioner's Court is we ended a long-standing contract that I don't think either side or sides were happy with, but moving forward it gives everybody the opportunity to sit down and have a conversation and to develop a new contract," Stephens said.

Now that the contract has been voted to come to an end, where will inmates go? Both Branick and Stephens said they have options.

"If we're unable to reach an agreement, the cities are gonna have other tools in their belt that they're gonna be whether it's private jails or magistrates or whatever they want to do," Branick said.

In a news release sent by city leaders Monday, the city claims Jefferson County started charging Beaumont and Port Arthur more $75 per day.

City leaders claim that's $20 more than Nederland, Port Neches and Groves pay.

12News brought this claim to Branick.

"It has always been the case that each of the cities were charged the exact same amount," Branick said.

Branick said the county remains open to negotiating with the cities and settling on a fair cost for housing the inmates.

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