The Hays County Jail. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
Hays County Commissioners Court won’t execute a contract for repairs to the county jail’s roof until Nov. 3 at the earliest, thereby missing by three days the 30-day deadline set by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) on Oct. 1.
As a result, the TCJS may issue a remedial order to Hays County, which would result in all or part of its jail being shut down, in which event even more prisoners would have to be shipped elsewhere at county expense. The county spent $264,900 during its last budget cycle to house inmates in Guadalupe County.
TCJS Executive Director Adan Muñoz said Tuesday that the commissioners’ failure to meet the deadline will be “a factor” he will consider before making his final recommendations to the nine-member TCJS commission at a meeting next week. More important, said Muñoz, is the court’s failure to take corrective action after a TCJS inspection conducted in April at the invitation of Sheriff Tommy Ratliff resulted in a visit from Muñoz. From that visit, TCJS issued the first of two noncompliance letters to Ratliff and Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley).
In addition to another visit from Muñoz, his agency sent Sumter and Ratliff a second noncompliance notice after TCJS Inspector Fredrick St. Amant arrived unannounced in September and found seven areas of noncompliance with state law, one of the most serious of which is the jail’s deteriorating roof.
“Since April, Hays County has not taken any constructive, positive action that we can see, and the commission needs to be informed as to (the jail’s) status, including the failed September inspection,” Muñoz said.
The commissioners court would have voted on the roofing contract Tuesday, but a procedural fluke originating in the Hays County Clerk’s Office resulted in the agenda not being posted at the county courthouse as required by Title 5 of the Texas Government Code. Title 5 mandates that notice of governmental body meetings be posted 72 hours in advance. Because the agenda was not duly posted, the commissioners had to call off Tuesday’s meeting.
Texas law requires commissioners to select the lowest responsible bidders for construction work. Regarding the county’s solicitation of roofing bids for the jail, the low bidder was Austin-based Texas Fifth Wall Roofing, which proposed a project cost of $424,000.
Muñoz sent Ratliff and Sumter a letter of invitation to appear before the TCJS on Nov. 5. The 9 a.m. meeting, open to the public, will be in room 120 of the John H. Reagan Building in Austin.
Said Sumter, “We will do a presentation, and, in fact, that presentation that we’ll be doing November 5 … we’re going to go ahead and do (at the commissioners court meeting) November 3, to see if there are any other questions or anything else that needs to be added.”
Hays County Commissioners voted unanimously last week to initiate an expenditure of $1,455,388 to address noncompliance issues identified by TCJS. Muñoz said most counties Hays’ position usually choose to build new jails. A new jail may cost the county $20-25 million.
Muñoz said overcrowding of the jail should be addressed, in addition to the noncompliance issues identified by the last TCJS inspection. The jail does not have enough beds to accommodate the number of people currently being incarcerated.
Sumter said two weeks ago that she supports a solution to the county’s jail woes that involves expanding the number of jail beds to 1,000, which, she said, is what a state study determined the county would need in 20 years. The jail now has 362 beds. Sumter said the county should not borrow money to increase the size of the jail by too little.
“If you are going to run out of space in 10 years and you still owe 10 years on that loan, that’s not a smart move,” Sumter said. “So, you want to make sure that the life of whatever you build lasts at least the length of the loan.”
Six counties with out-of-compliance jails are listed on next week’s TCJS meeting agenda, among other business.
“It’s hard for me to (predict what the TCJS will decide) because that’s up to my commission, but obviously Hays County has got some explaining to do,” Muñoz said Monday.Email | Print