|Jail fails state inspection
County may seek voter referendum on office space, bigger lock-up
|Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor|
Sept. 21, 2005 -- For the second time in a year, the Hopkins County jail has been warned about overcrowding in the facility by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
Following a Sept. 13 inspection of the jail, the commission found the number of prisoners continued to exceed the number of certified beds in the facility, according to Hopkins County Judge Cletis Millsap.
�The only thing I could find wrong with the jail was we had been over 100 people in the last 12 months at least six times,� the judge said. �This has caused us to fail in getting the certificate this time.�
A recommendation Tuesday from the district attorney’s office called for the construction of a new, larger jail to house county prisoners, something Millsap called a possible solution.
The county judge said the jail was not the only place in which county government had outgrown its limited space.
The move to the recently restored courthouse left the county clerk’s office at the old Houston Elementary School campus, which served as temporary space for county government while work was under way on the courthouse.
With office space at a premium in the courthouse, the rooms occupied by the district clerk’s office were quickly filled almost to capacity, and Millsap said the need for additional space could be addressed in the coming year.
Before taking steps in that direction, the county judge said he and the commissioners court would ask for input from county residents through a referendum.
�We are going to ask the voters to participate,� Millsap said. �There are other needs along with expanding the jail. We don�t have enough room in this courthouse, and we are operating in the Houston School and the school district is wanting to shed that property, and if they do, we don�t have a place to put the county clerk.
�The first thing I want to do is get the sheriff back in compliance,� Millsap added. �Then, I want to look at that [referendum] in the coming year.�
The immediate problem of too many inmates in the county jail will be addressed over the next 30 days as prosecutors, judges, the sheriff’s office and county commissioners work to keep the number well below 100 in order to get the jail recertified.
�We feel like that if we can just attain this goal within the next 30 days, by keeping this population under the limit and getting the certificate, we can move on for another year,� Millsap said.�
The state commission recommended the county look into the possibility of housing county prisoners in other counties, something the county judge said would be very expensive.
�You figure $40 a day for 10 prisoners, that would be $400 a day,� he said. �That accumulates to about $144,000 a year, and the sheriff does not have that kind of money set up in his budget.�
A list of current inmates indicates as many as 32 people who have not been indicted by a grand jury and have been unable to post a bail bond.
�You take sexual assault, robbery -- these people don�t need to be on the street,� Millsap said. �They need to be in jail.�
The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 17.515, does not address the types of offenses, rather, it specifies that “a defendant who is detained in jail pending trial of an accusation against him must be released either on personal bond or by reducing the amount of bail required if the state is not ready for trial of the criminal action for which he is being detained within 90 days from the commencement of his detention if he is accused of a felony.”
A number of other inmates are being held waiting for space at a substance abuse prison facility, while still others are just sitting out fines as the result of convictions. Some county jail inmates have been convicted of felony offenses and sentenced to serve time in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and must be transported to the prison. If there is no space for the inmate, they must be held in the county jail, according to Millsap.
�There are some problems here, but I think that we can work through it if we just all put our heads together and come up with a good plan and get that certificate,� he said.