By Cyndy Slovak-Barton
A move toward a $108 million county jail expansion/renovation bond is expected to be made at next week’s Hays County Commissioners Court meeting.
Commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting heard a presentation that included the Hays County sheriff, district attorney, San Marcos chief of police and others in support of a November bond package.
Hays County’s bond proposal includes various upgrades at the government center ($46 million) and $62 million at the Uhland Road jail facility.
“It (the jail) has clearly become a money hole, if you want to call it that … a money pit,” Hays County Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley said. “We have clearly reached that point where we need to make these investments.”
Sheriff Gary Cutler said changes made years ago altered the way the county did business when it comes to inmates and prisoner processing.
The “diversion tactics”, as Cutler called them, included using ankle monitors for those not needing to be put directly in jail and working with Austin Police to turn around evidence faster. Cutler said the tactics helped with overcrowding issues.
But the jail – even with the timesaving tactics – has reached capacity,
Questions now arise over safety, not just for the prisoners, but for the public and employees as well, according to Conley, Judge Bert Cobb and others.
Because the Hays County jail is not large enough to house all prisoners on site, the county currently outsources prisoners to other jails in the area, including Bastrop and Guadalupe counties.
Shannon Herklotz, assistant director of Inspections & Jail Management for the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, said there is a liability issue when prisoners must be transported off site.
“These guys aren’t in here for singing too loud in church,” he said. “These inmates will act up.”
Herklotz also said that more beds were needed than actual inmates to house the different classifications of inmates.
The current facility has 362 beds. The bond package as proposed would add an additional 192 beds.
“You’ve got to put apples with apples, oranges with oranges, and grapes with grapes,” Herklotz said.
Because of the county’s population acceleration, and with prisoners being sent to other facilities, problems will arise.
District Attorney Wes Mau said that when attorneys need to meet with their clients, sheriff deputies must drive and pick up the prisoner “sometimes for a 30-minute meeting.”
“There are intangible costs of housing people out of the county,” he said.
Mau added that transportation takes a lot of time, as well as delays in cases because attorneys cannot always meet with clients when the prisoner is housed elsewhere.
Because of crowding, the District Attorney’s office is pressured into clearing out people as fast as possible, Mau said.
While commissioners did not formally propose the bond election yet, most of the commissioners seemed in favor of the idea.
Conley and Pct. 2 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe sat on the committee overseeing the bond options and both expressed support for the proposal.
Pct. 4 Commissioner Ray Whisenant said he thought the pared down Option B gave the county flexibility for future expansion.
“By taking Option B now, I think we’re doing what’s fiscally responsible,” he said.
After questioning consultants on the communications center expansion, Hays County Judge Bert Cobb hinted that he supported the project.
“We don’t want a Taj Mahal, but we want something to fit our needs,” Cobb said. We don’t want to get into the negative spiral of maintenance costs on an old building, he added.
Conley said he thought the idea of continuing to throw money at an old facility was fiscally irresponsible. He added people have to “understand there is another side to the ledger.” He added a new facility would make the community and jail employees safer.
“These are not people we want in our subdivision,” he said, regarding many of the prisoners held in Hays County. “We will become a safer community, not only for our citizens, but also for the employees if the new facility is built.”
Hays County Jail by the numbers
$166 million – Cost of new jail
$108 million – Bond proposal on table
$46 million – Upgrades at government center
$62 million- Upgrades at current Uhland Road jail site
192 additional beds
19 out of 21 – Hays County incarceration rate third lowest in state of counties of similar size
554% – Hays County projected growth rate by 2030
103,640 square feet – proposed additional square footage
Hays County has held an incarceration rate of 1.95 per 1,000 residents, third lowest in the state for counties of similar size (100,000 to 300,000 in population). The state incarceration average is 2.16.