Reporter's Note: This story has been clarified to include Rusk County.
GILMER — Upshur County Sheriff Larry Webb sees empty beds inside one of the region’s largest jails as potential dollar signs.
Commissioners agreed Monday to allow about 10 Wood County Jail inmates to be housed in the Upshur County Jail, but Webb also wants the court to consider housing inmates from other jails around East Texas.
Wood County agreed to pay $40 a day for each inmate housed in the Upshur County Jail and will transport those inmates to and from Gilmer under the contract.
“Other than Smith County and Gregg County, I’m the largest jail in this area with 226 beds,” Webb said.
The Rusk County Jail in Henderson has 292 beds.
High employee turnover has resulted in low sheriff’s office staff numbers, both on patrol and in the jail, which has led to burnout, he said.
Meanwhile, he said he’s fielding calls from Nacogdoches County and others that want to house their inmates in Gilmer. He said Upshur County could generate as much as $300,000 in yearly revenues, but that would require additional staff.
“I have no relief down there, so I’m always going to have turnover, but then I’ve got outside counties calling that ask if I can take on some inmates,” Webb said.
As of Monday morning, the Upshur County Jail had 149 total inmates, of which 122 were the county’s inmates. Another 18 federal inmates were housed there under a U.S. Marshals Service contract, while Cass County had nine of its inmates in Gilmer. Webb said the county also has a similar contract with Camp County.
Webb told commissioners that employees in other county jails work a rotation that provides them four days off and a consistent schedule for on-call.
As for the Upshur jail, “I have no relief put in place to let these people off, but when you come and ask me about comp time ... that’s why, because you don’t see the numbers when we issue comp time until somebody leaves, and then you get mad, because you’re writing a huge check to people for comp time.”
Pct. 1 Commissioner Paula Gentry retorted that the court has provided Webb with four additional jailer positions since he took office in 2017.
“The way this is sounding is we don’t ever give you anybody,” Gentry said. “The last two that we gave were contingent on you getting a contract, and you hired those two before the contract was done, so we have given them.”
Several years ago under previous Sheriff Anthony Betterton, the county raked in about $1 million yearly in revenue from out-of-county inmates, but that was before Smith County — once a customer of Upshur County — expanded its jail in 2015.
“We networked with other sheriffs,” said Betterton, now Pct. 1 justice of the peace. “We had the ability, the housing, and they needed us, so we worked with the commissioners court, and ... we talked constantly with the judge and commissioners to keep them abreast of what’s going on.”
Betterton told commissioners that he didn’t like the back-and-forth arguments between Webb and commissioners.
“Let’s give him the ability that I enjoyed for years — to make this county better, to house inmates from other counties,” Betterton said.
County Judge Todd Tefteller asked Webb to bring a contract proposal from Nacogdoches County or another potential jail customer that the court might consider at a later date.
“We’ll cross that bridge later,” the judge said. “I’m not one for ruling that out.”