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

February 5th, 2010
State acknowledges county jail progress

020410tjscFrom left to right: Texas Jail Standards Commission (TJSC) Vice Chair Stanley D. Egger, TJSC Chair Donna Klaeger, and TJSC Executive Director Adan Muñoz addressing the Hays County Jail situation Thursday. Photo by Sean Batura.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

The Hays County Commissioners Court received a nod of approval Thursday from the State of Texas for trying to bring the county jail into compliance with state law.

Hays County Sheriff Tommy Ratliff, Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberely) and Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-San Marcos) appeared before the nine-member Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) Thursday to offer evidence that the county has made progress on fixing the jail’s kitchen, which TCJS inspectors found to be deficient on four consecutive occasions last year.

The county closed the jail kitchen for repairs this week and has a mobile kitchen up and running. The jail’s leaky roof — the other major area of noncompliance — is more than 60 percent replaced. Most of the other violations identified by TCJS inspectors have been addressed. TCJS inspectors found seven areas of noncompliance during their April and September official inspections. The county will invite TCJS inspectors back at the end of April to assess progress on the jail repairs.

“I think they recognized that there was an issue, and they moved quickly to rectify it,” said TCJS Chair and Burnet County Judge Donna Klaeger. “It looks like they’re being very proactive in setting up the mobile (kitchen) unit and getting it on ground in three months. It looks like they’re being very proactive and moving forward. I commend them in taking those steps.”

At the TCJS meeting on Nov. 5, Hays County commissioners discovered that a surprise walkthrough had been conducted by a TCJS inspector that week. Photos taken at that inspection were presented to the nine-member TCJS commission. After looking at the photos — which Conley later said looked worse that the real conditions — and after hearing TCJS Executive Director Adan Muñoz’s recommendations, TCJS commissioners ordered the closure of the Hays County jail kitchen within two weeks. However, before that deadline occurred, Hays County commissioners requested a rehearing with TCJS. The rehearing request effectively abated the kitchen closing order until Thursday, thus saving the county tens of thousands of dollars that would otherwise have been spent leasing a mobile kitchen for several weeks longer than is now expected to be necessary.

During a recent Hays County commissioners meeting, Conley and Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) said TCJS commissioners had not been fully briefed on all of Hays County’s efforts to come into compliance with state law. Conley and Barton said the kitchen was not as badly deteriorated as TCJS inspectors claimed. Conley and Barton cited the passing grades given to the jail by City of San Marcos and county health inspectors the week after the TCJS Nov. 5 meeting.

“I know they had their health inspector do an inspection,” said Muñoz. “And they gave them like an 80-something. And that’s all well and good if they feel ‘That’s good enough for us.’ In our situation, it’s either pass or fail … And obviously even at a score of 82, 84, whatever it is, that tells me that there’s severe demerits, and it would at least be obvious that they need to do something to correct it, which they have. So we may not all be in agreement on the front end, but I think we all reach the same conclusion in the end.”

Conley said he is sure that TCJS commissioners would not have issued the remedial order if they had been given adequate time to examine the county’s report of its progress on jail repairs and its timeline for further improvements.

“(On Nov. 5) the majority of the (commissioners) court was caught completely off guard with the information that was presented to us at that meeting,” Conley said. “I believe the only ones that were aware of that situation was Sheriff Ratliff and Judge Sumter. If we would have been prepared, I believe that the remedial order would have never been issued, and we would have been able to better to explain our current position in which we were already heading down a path of making these improvements. But we were kind of thrown under the bus, the commissioners that were there.”

Asked to respond to Conley’s comment, Ratliff said: “I really don’t have anything to say to that. I really don’t know what he’s talking about. But the bottom line is, we’re getting things done and have gotten some things accomplished … to get us up to standards.”

Sumter and Ratliff said Thursday that they became aware of the pre-Nov. 5 surprise walkthrough at the same time as the commissioners. Sumter and Ratliff said that the inspector who did the walkthrough in November did not contact the sheriff or anyone on the commissioners court before or after the inspection.

“This roof has been leaking before I became judge,” Sumter said Thursday in response to Conley’s assessment. “Commissioner Conley should have taken care of this problem years ago. He was aware of it, he knew the roof was leaking, he knew we had insurance money available, but he didn’t move forward. So we’re doing the cleanup now.”

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. Repairs associated with the jail roof may cost $665,100, minus possibly as much as $293,442 in settlement money. Ratliff said the commissioners court became aware of the availability of settlement money on Dec. 13, 2000.

“They had 10 years to fix this roof … and they didn’t do it,” Ratfliff said.

The ongoing repairs — begun in November — to the jail’s roof have resulted in the county sending more prisoners than usual to be housed in Guadalupe County. Hays County spent $264,900 for “contract detention” services last budget cycle to house 25 inmates in Guadalupe County. Hays County paid $255,900 in contract detention fees from October through December, and has not yet been billed for January. The county budgeted $350,000 for contract detention this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. Ratliff said some prisoners will be able to come back to Hays County once repairs to the jail roof and kitchen are complete.

Muñoz said Hays County needs a new jail.

“They’ve outgrown their jail, both by growth and by just the fact that it’s been there for so many years — it’s just deteriorating,” Muñoz said. “Obviously, that’s what they need.”

Sumter and Hays County Sheriff Tommy Ratliff have expressed support for the building of a new jail of at least 1,000 beds. The current jail has 362 beds. In November, Hays County Auditor Bill Herzog estimated that a new jail might cost “close to $50-or-$60 million.”

Said Ratliff Thursday, “We have to keep up with our growing population. Right now, today, we have 64 inmates in Guadalupe County. A lot of it is just because of the roof, but you have to remember we have, total county (prisoners in) the jail today, I think was 343. So if we had all those inmates back, we would still be sending some over there. If we want to keep paying Guadalupe County a substantial amount of money to house our prisoners, then we don’t have to build anything. If we are tired of paying them a lot of money, then we need to address it.”

The lowest mobile kitchen provider bid solicited by the county came in at $11,200 per month, plus a $3,500 setup charge. Hays County commissioners in October authorized an expenditure of $1,455,388 in short-term repairs to the jail and about $246,400 for consultant firm Broaddus and Associates (B&A) to conduct a physical assessment of the jail. As of November, the county paid Broaddus and Associates (B&A) about $61,581.81 for overseeing the county jail repairs, plus about $70,244.70 for related consultant fees to MGT for that firm’s analysis of the county’s justice system.

B&A has finished conducting a physical assessment of the jail, which it recently gave to the commissioners court members with MGT’s completed study. MGT conducted an analysis of the county’s criminal justice system. The two firms’ studies will bear on the commissioners court’s decision of whether to increase the size of the current jail or build a new jail. MGT’s study will suggest ways for county officials to streamline the justice system to avoid the expense of incarcerating people longer than necessary.

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