Texas county faces growing problem of overcrowding in local jail

HIDALGO COUNTY — Chained up, crammed in, maxed out. This isn’t just how the inmates feel in the Hidalgo County Detention Facility in Texas, it’s how Sheriff Lupe Trevino feels about his biggest county problem.

“Overcrowding definitely is our number one problem,” said Sheriff Lupe Trevino of Hidalgo County.

This maximum security jail is the seventh largest jail in the state of Texas.

“The capacity for the Hidalgo County Jail is 1,232,” said Trevino. But the total number of inmates goes over 1,300, forcing many of the inmates to be outsourced.

This place holds some of Hidalgo County’s worst offenders, but which type of criminals are filling up the cell blocks the fastest?

“And that is the undocumented immigrant bookings and the gang bookings,” said Trevino.

Trevino believes increasing border violence is bringing his head count up.

“Since the 2009 drug wars, our numbers have increased dramatically. And reason being I believe is that a lot of people are fleeing from the cartel drug wars,” said Trevino.

Trevino knows he can’t fix the violence resulting from cartels in Mexico.

“But there is something we can do about the gang problem. We have a very pro-active anti-gang program called GAP. It’s a gang awareness program,” said Trevino.

Gang members alone create the biggest spacing issues, because detention officers can’t put rival gang members in the same cell. So many cells aren’t filled to capacity. Detention officers say it is too dangerous to add anyone not affiliated with the gang inside.

Captain Belinda Madrigal said they must identify each inmates gang affiliation the second they put on their orange jumpsuit.

“They sign an SEG form that we call, and that form is basically them telling us that they are part of a gang, and they are taking full responsibility for being in that tank,” said Captain Belinda Madrigal, Hidalgo County Jail Facility.

But no matter the crime, the point is the number of inmates isn’t going down. It costs $48.71 to house one inmate per day in jail. But not everyone stays in Edinburg, with the jail at capacity, overflowing inmates must be outsourced to other facilities.

“Since 2003 we have paid out 11.2 million dollars to outsource our inmates to the private corrections corporations, we are making millionaires out of them,” said Trevino.

And money to pay that bill comes directly out of tax payers wallets. But Trevino said he knows a way to end this never ending money pit.

“The solution I believe to our overcrowding is expansion. and that is really about the only way we can do it. We can expand this current facility to 2,000 beds, which is an addition 768 beds,” said Trevino.

Expansion comes at a price, fortunately Trevino has a solution for that too.

“We could work out a contract with the U.S. Marshals where I could lease them 500 beds at about 52 to 57 dollars a day per bed depending on the negotiation. And we could probably raise, generate $10 million a year,” said Trevino.

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