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County resolves jails conditions while judge, sheriff clash

By Sahar Chmais
HAYS COUNTY – Inside the Hays County Jail, community members reported conditions such as inability to flush toilets, broken walls, lack of airflow, swamp gas inside and no visitors allowed, said Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra.
But Sheriff Gary Cutler said that exact nature of Becerra’s allegations were not provided to jail staff prior to inspection.
And an unannoucned inspection by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) did not show the problems as described by Becerra.
Becerra charged that he was unable to go in to witness the improvements himself. According to Becerra, he was denied access because of COVID-19 and renovations being made in the facility.
Becerra said that after several internal requests between another county commissioner and the sheriff’s office, he emailed TCJS on March 15 about the discrepancies.
Before reaching out to TCJS, Becerra said he reached out to Captain Julissa Villalpando, on March 11, believing the contractor Cutler was working with had enough time to correct the issues. After four days, Becerra contacted TCJS.
On March 16, TCJS inspector Jon Luna went to the jail in an unannounced visit. The inspector was asked to examine two items:
1.     Inability of inmates to flush toilets more than three times per hour creating the smell of human waste.
2.     Reports of broken walls and a putrid smell of swamp gas in the jail cells.

Luna reported noticeable construction occurring for a classroom for the inmates in a restricted area – inmates are not granted access to the site. During the walkthrough, no putrid smell was identified. Inspection also showed that inmate toilets are equipped with anti-flood flushing mechanisms, restricting constant flushing for intentional flooding. Toilets are restricted to three consecutive flushes and reset shortly after.

From the original jail and the newly constructed jail, one toilet proved problematic, only flushing three times every hour.
“Upon inspection of and interviewing of inmates housed in Pod E,” the report read, “it was identified that the timer was set incorrectly in this housing unit and was only allowing these inhabitants to flush three times consecutively within an hour … despite the erroneous lavatory times issue, there was no detected putrid smell within this, or any housing unit encountered by this inspector.”
According to a press release from the sheriff’s office, the facility recently completed an expansion that was approved by voters in a 2016 bond election.
“The jail is a community of people that inhabit the facility 365 days a year,” Villalpando said. “Just like a home, things sometimes wear out and need to be fixed. Our maintenance team works to keep things in the old building in working order. We are getting acclimated to the new expansion, which includes computer settings to avoid intentional flooding of cells.”
Villalpando said the jail has passed every inspection since 2010 when Cutler took office. She added that inspections are always unannounced.

About Author

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Sahar Chmais holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. She has been covering cities in Hays County for one year, touching on residents' struggles and successes, city issues, COVID-19 and more. Prior to reporting on the local spectrum, Sahar reported for a national news organization, covering gun violence. Sahar enjoys working as a local reporter because she gets to work with real people and their stories.

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