The unusual number of “high-risk” inmates incarcerated in the Erath County Jail is putting an unwelcome stress on the facility and its staff.

Sheriff Tommy Bryant said there are a record number of inmates - five in all — accused of committing or being involved in violent crimes, and each of these individuals must be kept in an isolated cell. Bryant said inmates who are accused of murder or who are mentally ill or suicidal cannot be placed in cells with other inmates.

“We currently have seven cells that can hold anywhere from six to eight people that are being used by one person, which has seriously limited our space,” Bryant said. “What we’ve had to do is move 15 inmates to Comanche to make room for the isolated inmates.”

The jail has space to hold 72.

Besides the five classified as “high-risk” because of the nature of their crime, there are two additional inmates on suicide watch who must also be kept in isolation and are monitored around the clock by jail staff.

Among those classified as “high-risk” are Joseph Scott Hatley, accused of the 1987 murder of Susan Woods; Cody Roberson, accused of killing his mother in January; Ricardo Rodriquez and Frank Webb, both accused of capital murder in the recent slaying of Carlos and Lucia Garcia; and Graciano Lopez, held on illegal immigration charges and as a material witness in the Garcia murders.

He said with the exception of Roberson, the inmates are allowed a certain amount of time in the recreation yard but they must be accompanied by a guard and go at a time when no other inmates are there. Because Roberson attacked two guards shortly after he was arrested, he is not allowed the privilege.

“But he (Roberson) is allowed to exercise inside his cell as much as he wants,” Bryant said.

Bryant said he can’t remember a time when the jail housed so many inmates accused of murder.

“This is an unusual situation where we’ve got a high number of people accused of committing horrific crimes,” Bryant said. “But it certainly shows how serious the need to update this facility really is. We are simply outgrowing this jail - it needs a facelift and we need more space.”

Sara Vanden Berge covers courts, law enforcement, and business and political issues for the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at sara.vandenberge@empiretribune.com. Her work number is 968-2379, ext. 240.