Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Jail overcrowding continues to loom large over county


Representatives of Coryell County, including Sheriff Scott Williams, are scheduled to meet with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to discuss continuing problems with noncompliance due to having too many inmates at the facility.

That was the case as of Feb. 3, when the jail had 97 inmates in a facility that is supposed to house no more than 92.

"We are still sitting at 97 after dropping off inmates" at state prison units," Williams told the Coryell County Commissioners Court. "We have a potential arrangement with Zapata County (located on the border with Mexico about six hours from Gatesville) that is pending. Milam County (located a little over an hour from Gatesville) hasn't taken any of our inmates in months, so we ought to revisit that contract."

Commissioner Scott Weddle asked what the process is for reducing the number of inmates at the jail in order to achieve compliance with state requirements.

"Every day we send emails out (to other jails asking if they have space available)." Williams said. "We send requests to each contractor asking if they have beds available. They look at the inmates' history, type of crime and medical condition. If we have a list of 15 inmates, they might take two.

"A lot of places just won't take them. Contract places don't want to deal with anyone that's a discipline problem. All that creates our overcrowding."

Weddle said the county has to work to try to send some of the inmates elsewhere to avoid overcrowding.

"We've got to send the ones that will stick (there) for a while the best we can," he said.

Inmates who are sentenced to prison often must wait the maximum number of days in the county jail — 45 — before they are admitted to state prisons, which also aggravates the crowding situation for the county.

"The commissioner doesn't care if it takes 10 hours to get inmates (to another facility that will accept them — you've got to get them out no matter what."

Transporting the inmates great distances reduces the number of jailers available locally, creating additional concerns.

"Even with a four-hour commute one-way, it's an all-day affair (to relocate inmates)," Williams said.

"I sent emails to all other 253 counties in Texas (seeking jail space for inmates). There are plenty of beds, just not enough staff."

Weddle asked if Coryell County might be able to address some of those staffing concerns.

"Crazy idea — what if we loaned them a jailer?" Weddle asked.

"We don't have the staff to do that," Williams said. "I think we're seven short right now."

Weddle said he thought the jail commission would voice its displeasure with the continued overcrowding in the county.

"I imagine it's going to be a very uncomfortable meeting," he told the sheriff.

"You can't squeeze blood out of a turnip," Williams said, adding he is doing his best to address the chronic problem.

County Attorney Brandon Belt said the permit process is underway to expand the jail.

"That's going to make more hay than anything," Williams said.

Although jail expansion has been improved, construction will take at least most of the rest of 2023, if not longer, before the expansion is complete.

"Even though we fast-tracked it, it's going to be November, December or January before the jail is expanded," Weddle said.

Belt said a May 1 groundbreaking for the expansion is possible.

"I hope they see these efforts as us busting our butts ... we're trying everything we can (to resolve overcrowding)."