San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

November 5th, 2009
State orders county jail kitchen shut down

Left to right: Broaddus and Associates Senior Project Manager Phillip Buterbaugh, Jeff Bradley of HDR Architecture, Inc.m and Hays County Sheriff Tommy Ratliff hold a discussion outside Thursday’s state jail standards commission meeting. Photo by Sean Batura.

News Reporter

AUSTIN — The Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) has ordered Hays County to close its jail kitchen within two weeks and to continue fixing water leakage problems that have rendered some cells uninhabitable.

TCJS inspected the county’s jail in April and September, finding the facility noncompliant with state law on both occasions.

Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley), Sheriff Tommy Ratliff and Commissioners Debbie Ingalsbe, Will Conley and Karen Ford appeared at a Thursday morning TCJS meeting to explain how the county was coming into compliance. At the meeting, TCJS Executive Director Adan Muñoz advised his agency’s commission to order an immediate closure of the jail’s kitchen. The commission granted an extension until Nov. 20 after input from Ratliff.

Sumter said after the meeting that kitchen repairs will begin in February and be completed in March or April. Until then, the county will have to provide food to inmates by other means. Ratliff said his “personal preference” would be to use a mobile kitchen, which, he said, may cost $10,000 a month.

“Until the roof and all the (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) is actually taken care of and fixed, it doesn’t do any good to fix anything inside,” Sumter said after the meeting.

TCJS’ September inspection found at least seven areas of noncompliance with state law, including mold and mildew on the 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 severe roof damage.

Sumter said in a letter to TCJS that the county has repaired doors and cells in the jail, removed the rust from food passes, and cleaned away the mold in the kitchen. Sumter said the county is receiving bids for the replacement of the infirmary’s shower and new valves to improve water flow in sinks and showers, and she said the jail’s indoor recreation areas will be repaired within the first half of November.

Tuesday, the commissioners court awarded Austin-based Texas Fifth Wall Roofing a $424,000 contract for repairs to the jail’s damaged roof, which TCJS inspectors since April have found to be in danger of causing further deterioration of the facility. The county estimates it will receive $245,000 in settlement money that will go towards jail roof repairs. The county took part in a class action lawsuit against Beazer East, Inc., the manufacturer of the jail’s roof insulation, which was found to corrode metal.

After the TCJS meeting, Ratliff said Hays County needs to gain the capacity to support 300 to 600 more inmates. Ratliff said the county ought to generate income by housing inmates from other counties. Ratliff estimated that a new jail with capacity for about 1,000 inmates would cost “close to $50 or $60 million, probably.” Sumter said last month that a state study determined the county would need just fewer than 1,000 jail beds within the next 20 years. The Hays County Jail now has 362 beds.

“I think it’s safe to say that the current size of the jail for future needs is not sufficient, but as to the exact number (of additional beds needed), we don’t know that yet,” said MGT Senior Associate Margo Frasier, whose firm is now conducting an assessment of the county’s justice system needs.

The county spent $264,900 during the last budget cycle to house 25 inmates in Guadalupe County. Ratliff said this morning that the county is currently housing 56 prisoners in Guadalupe County. Ratliff said there are more inmates than usual being housed out-of-county due to ongoing repairs.

“At $50 a day, times seven, times four, times 12 months — you do that math,” Ratliff said. “That’s a lot of money that Hays County is having to pay out (to house inmates elsewhere). I just don’t think that’s acceptable. We’re going to have to build another facility to house prisoners, because as you know, Hays County is one of the fastest-growing counties in the country.”

In October, Hays County commissioners authorized an expenditure of $1,455,388 in short-term repairs to the jail. The county’s consultant firm, Broaddus and Associates (B&A), is conducting a comprehensive physical assessment of the jail. B&A Austin Area Manager Brenda Jenkins said the results her firm’s study would not be available “until approximately January.” B&A is coordinating its work with MGT’s justice system assessment. Frasier, who was at the TCJS meeting this morning, said her firm’s study may be complete by the end of December.

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