Top county officials realize the Erath County Jail needs to receive a facelift and be expanded to keep up with an ever-growing jail population.

But, contrary to what some have been led to believe, it has not reached a “crisis” situation — and there’s no need to build a new jail, County Judge Tab Thompson said.

“The problem didn’t occur overnight,” Thompson said, “and the problem isn’t going to be fixed overnight.”

Thompson made the remarks after a newspaper article appeared last week on a Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) report that noted the Erath County Jail is too small to manage the jail’s current population, much less in the future.

Thompson said the TCJS report is a “tool they provide to you” that includes “no directives” and “no mandates.”

In addition, Thompson said, Erath County commissioners are already taking steps to address the overcrowding problem at the 72-bed, 18-year-old facility.

The county, for example, has instituted a pre-trial program that allows 25-40 “low-risk” people to be released from jail and be monitored daily, Thompson said.

Thompson also said the county has agreements for other counties to house Erath County inmates.

In addition, Thompson said, the county has started the process of hiring an architect to prepare designs on improving and expanding the existing jail facility.

“There’s plenty of room for expansion,” Thompson said. “We will do our homework and explore all options.”

In the coming weeks, Thompson said, commissioners plan to tour facilities, within 150 miles, that have been expanded.

“We’re going to go take a look,” Thompson said.

County Auditor James Young said the tentative schedule is to hire an architect during the current fiscal year, have jail expansion and improvement plans designed during the next fiscal year (2007-08) and then possibly begin construction during the 2008-09 fiscal year.

Until the jail is expanded and improved, Young said the county has “got more than enough capacity” to house inmates, especially with its successful pre-trial diversion program and its contracts with other counties to house, if necessary, Erath County inmates.

“It’s not a new issue,” Thompson said. “We are addressing it, and we will continue to address it.”

DOUG MYERS is Managing Editor of the Empire-Tribune. He can be reached at doug.myers@empiretribune.com or (254) 965-3124, ext. 229.