Erath County officials recently received a facility needs analysis conducted by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards regarding the current state of the county jail.
Its finding, though not surprising to Sheriff Tommy Bryant, reports the jail is outdated and too small to manage the jail’s current population, much less the future’s.
According to the analysis, the jail is already well behind the number of beds it needs to house inmates. The 18-year-old facility has 72 beds, but needs at least 96 to meet current standards. By the year 2025, that figure increases to 110 jail beds. The report also suggests at that time the jail add an additional 48 beds “to act as a buffer for future unexpected growth and the large number of outstanding warrants held by Erath County and municipalities located within Erath County.”
The analysis states that with an increasing population, highway traffic, a growing number of area tourist attractions and the county’s 3,000 outstanding warrants, the projected inmate population is expected to increase.
Bryant said this month alone, 19 inmates have been transferred to Comanche County Jail because of overcrowding, at a cost to Erath County taxpayers of $19,950, plus medical expenses.
“I don’t think it’s fair to our taxpayers that we are giving Comanche County money to house our inmates,” Bryant said.
Likewise, Bryant said it’s unfair for his jail staff to work in a cramped and outdated environment, where there’s not enough room to store the enormous number of inmate files the state requires them to keep.
“A lot of our technology is outdated, including our control room, which is also too small,” he said. “I’m ready to see the staffs’ working conditions improve. These people are professionals and they deserve a better work environment.”
Meanwhile, County Judge Tab Thompson said he and the commissioners are “keenly aware” of the current jail situation and realize the need to make a decision regarding the facility has grown more serious in recent months.
“We understand exactly the dilemma we are in and one thing we all agree on is that we have to do something,” Thompson said.
But what that “something” will be has not yet been decided. Thompson said he will meet with the commissioners and Bryant to discuss options available to them and consider expanding the current facility or building a new one.
“We are still in the information gathering stage of this and we are taking a look at all of our options,” Thompson said. “We are going to look at the most cost effective way to provide a facility that meets the needs of the sheriff’s department and the jail while spending the taxpayers’ money wisely.”
Bryant said county officials have met with architects to discuss the cost of a new jail and that the estimated price to build a new facility is between $7-10 million.
SARA VANDEN BERGE covers courts, law enforcement, and business and political issues for the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her work number is 968-2379, ext. 240.