Hays County Sheriff Tommy Ratliff (coat and tie) speaks with Hays County law enforcement personnel during a recess at a recent commissioners court meeting. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
The Hays County Jail is on its last leg, according to the State of Texas, whose inspector two weeks ago found multiple violations of minimum standards.
Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) Executive Director Adan Munoz presented the findings of the inspection to the Hays County Commissioners Court this week. Munoz gave the county 30 days to initiate corrective measures or the jail is subject to a remedial order, which could, in effect, leave the county without a jail.
“I think it’s really not been a secret that Hays County has needed to build a new jail for a number of years now,” said Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley). “And I think that the recent report from the jail standards folks kind of puts if front and center for the court.”
TCJS Inspector Fredrick St. Amant found no violations of state jail standards during the last annual inspection of the jail. St. Amant’s inspection occurred September 9-10, before Tommy Ratliff was appointed sheriff in December. TCJS Inspector Jackie Semmler, during a one-day inspection of the jail last month, found at least seven areas of noncompliance with state law, some of which, she said, pose health, safety and security concerns for inmates, staff and the public.
“Today, most county sheriffs still view law enforcement as their primary duty, while the responsibility for jail management is all too often relegated to inferior subordinates or maintained with reluctance,” said a 2001 TCJS report. “The typical county sheriff and his or her deputies have little interest in corrections or jails.”
Munoz said Ratliff requested the April 23 inspection.
“That (inspection) was conducted at the request of the Sheriff of Hays County because he sees a greater need, rather than a patch-up,” Munoz said. “He sees a need for a (new) facility to be built, not only to accommodate the violations — the compliance issues — but it’s also overcrowded.”
Sumter said the county has been housing prisoners in other jurisdictions for the last five years. Sumter said the costs of sending prisoners elsewhere “are fast rising,” and said it costs more money to house prisoners in other jurisdictions than it does to keep them in Hays County. Activities associated with housing prisoners elsewhere include transportation of prisoners back and forth to court and prisoner medical care.
Regarding action the commissioners court may take to remedy the county’s jail woes, said Sumter: “I think probably around June or July — most likely June — I’ll probably be putting a workshop or at least be making some suggestions on what we need to be doing for the long-term, not the short-term.”
Sumter said some of the options the court may consider include adding onto the current jail, acquiring land and constructing a new jail, or constructing a government building complex that would include all the county’s justice components, such as the District Attorney’s office, the adult probation department and jail facilities.
“That whole grouping of folks would be in a building so that you don’t have to transport prisoners across San Marcos,” Sumter said. “And that cuts down on the operation costs, makes it more secure for citizens.”
Sumter said building a justice center would result in a smaller version of the planned $90 million county government center currently in the design phase. Sumter said a provision of the deal that secured the future site of the government center prohibits the housing of inmates at that location, which is near Wonder World Drive and Stagecoach Trail in San Marcos.
One item of noncompliance noted by Semmler was jail roof damage, which, according to the inspection report, “may lead (to) further deterioration of the facility.”
Some of the roof damage was the result of a type of insulation found to corrode metal. Hays County was a claimant in the class action lawsuit against the company that designed the insulation. Beazer East, Inc. paid $160,000 to Hays County to fix the insulation. The county is soliciting bids from construction companies for the restoration of the roof, the cost of which, Sumter said, will not be covered by the settlement money.
“Regardless of what we do to the jail in the long term, this is money well-spent,” said Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) during the commissioners court meeting this week.
Munoz said counties may implement certain policies to reduce the rate at which jails deteriorate.
“Sometimes, you get some aggressive judges that want to (jail) somebody for a long period of time,” Munoz said. “You got some other ones that’ll say, ‘Let’s see if we can monitor the jail population, see if somebody’s eligible for bond quicker than we normally would.’ As long as they institute those kinds of best practices, or ways for alternative incarceration, that certainly (reduces) the wear and tear of any facility.”Email | Print