Hays County Sheriff Tommy Ratliff (facing, in hat), discusses the Hays County Jail situation with other law enforcement. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
A Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) inspector arrived unannounced this month to examine the Hays County Jail, and after conducting his review, issued a failing grade.
Once Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley) receives the inevitable noncompliance letter from the state, county commissioners and jail administrators will have 30 days to demonstrate a good faith effort to remedy the deficiencies. If the state doesn’t note improvement before the end of October, the county may have to close its prison kitchen and send some inmates to other counties.
TCJS Executive Director Adan Muñoz Tuesday morning presented the findings of the latest annual inspection to the Hays County Commissioners Court last Tuesday.
“They have failed two inspections — one in April and one last week,” Muñoz said Tuesday. “That’s two inspections that they’ve failed with no progress, whatsoever. My presentation to them told them, ‘Look, whatever you decide to do, you got to do something now, because you got water coming into the facility, you got a kitchen that is not in compliance, they’ve got mold, there’s a possibility of (food) contamination.'”
By policy, the TCJS conducts its inspections without telling facilities managers when those inspections will take place.
Hays County Sheriff Tommy Ratliff initiated the one-day April inspection, during which TCJS Inspector Jackie Semmler found seven realms of noncompliance with state standards. Semmler said the deficiencies posed health, safety and security concerns for inmates, staff and the public. TCJS Inspector Fredrick St. Amant found no violations of state jail standards during his two-day inspection in September 2008, before Ratliff was appointed sheriff last December.
“My mild frustration with Jail Standards is, we are really moving very aggressively to try and address this long-term issue of the jail,” Said Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle). “And we don’t want to spend short-term money in a wasteful fashion until we know what the long-term solution’s going to be. If we’re going to (keep the jail) at that site, well, then we can afford to spend a lot of money fixing up the jail. If we’re going to move, then we want a patchwork solution for now.”
The commissioners court in July authorized consultant Broaddus and Associates (B&A) to hire MGT of America, Inc., to conduct a study of the existing jail, the results of which commissioners will use to determine whether they will order the building of a new facility or make improvements to the existing jail. The results of the MGT study will be factored into B&A’s broader county facilities assessment.
Muñoz said in May that the severity of the county jail’s deficiencies necessitates the building of a new jail. The county jail was built in 1989 and renovated in 2001.
Muñoz also cited lack of adequate space for prisoners as a reason why Hays County needs a new jail. County Accountant Vicki Wilhelm said the county paid $264,900 during the last budget cycle to house 25 inmates in Guadalupe County.
Inspection documents completed by St. Amant last week said 297 prisoners are housed at the county jail and the facility has a maximum capacity of 362. According to the Hays County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), the full capacity of the jail is not being utilized due to a combination of routine and state mandated maintenance that requires prisoners be moved for their safety and the safety of workers, and because some categories of prisoners (low risk, high risk, male, female) cannot be housed near one another.
Wilhelm said the county allocated $600,000 this budget year for jail maintenance.
“It’s there earmarked for jail repairs, but we don’t know what all the repairs are going to be and exactly how much they’re going to come in at,” Wilhelm said.
Last week, St. Amant sifted through dozens of inmate and personnel files and facility policies. They observed an emergency drill, interviewed staff and inmates, conducted inspections of equipment and provided technical assistance, after which he found seven categories of noncompliance. Instances of noncompliance St. Amant specified in his report include mold and mildew on walls of walk-in coolers and freezers, deterioration of cooler walls from rust, kitchen floors prone to cause slipping, lack of washable surfaces in the kitchen caused by cracked ceilings and missing and damaged kitchen floor tiles, rusted food passes in the holding and detox area, rusted walls, partitions, showers and vents, holes and cracks in the indoor recreation area’s walls, and roof damage causing leaking that he said may result in further “deterioration” of the facility.
“The big ticket items have not been looked at, like the floor, the kitchen, the area where the exercise yard is … and the roof situation,” Ratliff said Tuesday. “Those are big-ticket items that have not been addressed. So until they get addressed, we’re not going to be in compliance.”
Barton said Ratliff did not ask the commissioners court for funding related to the jail kitchen and cooler.
“There are some intercoms out at the Justice Center that I don’t think were asked for in the budget,” Barton said.
St. Amant also inspected the Hays County Justice Center on Guadalupe Street in San Marcos, where he found a holding cell without an intercom and a cell with a nonfunctional intercom. State law requires two-way voice to be available at all times between inmates and staff. According to St. Amant’s inspection, the justice center can house a maximum of 20 inmates, the average daily population “varies,” and there was one inmate at the time of the inspection.
Some of the roof damage is the result of a type of insulation that corrodes metal. Barton said the county can fix the roof using money it won in a settlement against the insulation’s manufacturer. In May, the county solicited bids from companies to repair the roof.
“We didn’t actually go out for bid (for the roof repair), because there was a lot of assessment that needed to be done on the structural portion of the building to make sure that whatever we put out there would address the situation,” Sumter said.
Sumter said B&A is examining the jail’s roof and the kitchen floors and cooler.
“When (Muñoz) says, ‘We need to see progress,’ I’m a little concerned about whether he understands everything that’s happening since he was here last,” Barton said. “I mean, we’ve got architects and engineers and construction people and jail experts and internal staff all spending time and money on this issue. So, it’s not like we’re sitting back ignoring the problem out there.”
Muñoz said almost 45 Texas counties are out of compliance with state jail standards. He said that though TCJS closes jails only as “a last resort,” it has done so before, such in Howard County in 2006, when the commissioners court and jail staff there failed to fix the jail’s smoke evacuation system.
“At no point do I know of, or recall, where all jails – and there’s 240 of them currently in the State of Texas, that’s county jails and private facilities that we monitor – as far as I know, there’s never been a situation or a time where all of them were in compliance at the same time,” Muñoz said.Email | Print