County facing jail woes again
Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

Nov. 17, 2004 -- The cost of crime continues to climb in Hopkins County, not only for victims of crime, but for taxpayers as well.

In the next year, the county may have to look hard to find the money to meet anticipated recommendations from the State Commission on Jail Standards.

Sheriff Butch Adams said the jail passed inspection after the jail standards commission's visit last month, but inspectors said they would be watching the number of prisoners and the number of jailers required by the state to supervise them.

"They did mention to me that they were going to look in on us in the coming year, that we needed to have at least three or four more jailers on," the sheriff said. "When you look at three to four jailers, you are looking at at least $100,000 per year that we would have to come up with, and that is one cent on the tax rolls."

Hopkins County Judge Cletis Millsap said the county simply cannot afford to fund new projects, and another $100,000 per year just adds to the county's burdens in the criminal justice system.

"We've already got Jail Standards on our back about increasing the number of jailers, and it gets into all the other problems we have," the judge said. "We've got county roads that have got to have attention, and in the past, commissioners have taken some monies from the road and bridge program to put into the judicial system because of a [criminal] trial."

The biggest single reason for the increased number of prisoners in the county jail is related to drugs, according to both Adams and Millsap.

"Drugs, they are the root of all evil," the sheriff said. "It is the cause of burglaries, crimes against people, and is very costly. It costs us in our judicial system."

The county also must provide lawyers for those prisoners that cannot afford them, as well as to provide food and housing for prisoners.

"We have to feed and clothe them but they are incarcerated in the jail to keep them off the streets in the best interest of the public," Adams said. "It's just a tremendous burden on the taxpayers to support a system."

Not only must the county look to satisfying the state requirements for the number of jail employees, they must also begin to look a little further down the road to a time when the jail may have to be be expanded or a new facility built.

While Hopkins County Jail is certified to house 98 prisoners, there have been only two months this year in which that number was not exceeded. In 2003, the number of prisoners exceeded certified capacity six of the 12 months.

The daily average number of prisoners in the jail last month was 115. Of that number, 12 per day were awaiting transfer to state prisons. The remaining number were either awaiting trial or revocation proceedings or serving sentences in the county jail for misdemeanor offenses.

Jail records indicate there were about 94 male inmates and 20 female inmates.

'We are always hoping the system will get a little bit better where we don't have to house that many down there," Sheriff Adams said. "We're always looking for that."

The constant increase in the numbers of prisoners held in the county jail would not lead one to realistically expect to see an inmate population more in line with the certified bed capacity at the jail.

Continually increasing numbers could force the county to expand the jail.

"One of the things you just don't like to do is to expand facilities such as the jail," Adams said. "We are going to hold off on that as long as we can."

Another problem at the jail involves the need to move prisoners to the courthouse for court appearances. With the prisoner-jailer ratio crowding state limits, the sheriff said deputies must be taken off routine patrol to have enough officers to manage the transportation to and from the courtrooms.

Adams said that, ideally, a future jail facility would include enough space for a small courtroom in which judges would come to the jail for arraignments, docket calls and other proceedings leading up to trial.

The many possible sizes and configurations have not received much more than cursory consideration, the most recent more than a year ago.

Adams said the last dollar estimate he had for a jail expansion came in at more than $1.5 million.

Judge Millsap said some preliminary discussions have been held regarding the jail, but there are no immediate plans to begin looking into any kind of jail expansion, but agrees those discussions will have to begin soon.

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