County jail gets failing grade Inmates may have to be moved to other cities

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK, News-Telegram Managing Editor

Sept. 19, 2008 - County officials were scrambling today to find solutions to jail overcrowding after a state report found multiple problems at the Hopkins County Law Enforcement Center.

And Hopkins County Judge Cletis Millsap said if the county cannot find solutions to jail overcrowding, the state could issue a remedial order that could force the county to spend thousands of dollars a day to house inmates in other counties.

"There's a kink in the system," Millsap said today, "and it's got to be fixed."

An inspection Sept. 18 by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards found five "areas of non-compliance" in 13 categories.

For one, the county jail was cited for having too many inmates in multiple occupancy cells.

"Some MO cells had as many as five inmates sleeping on the floor," inspector Fred St. Amant wrote in his report.

Intercoms and remote controls were another area of concern. Jailroom doors are supposed to be able to be locked and unlocked by controls located away from the cell area, but five doors could not be opened or closed remotely.

Two-way voice communication between inmates and guards should be available at all times, but intercoms in two cells were not working properly.

A fire panel that had not been inspected since July 2007 left a deficiency in the life safety equipment category.

But the biggest problem facing the county's correctional facility appears to be overcrowding. While the report listed the average daily inmate population for the 12 months preceding the inspection at 89 -- 11 less than capacity -- the jail census has been in triple digits since mid-June.

Consequently, not only is the jail holding too many prisoners -- as many as 144 one day this summer -- but there aren't enough corrections officers to meet state requirements. Texas Jail Standards Commission regulations require a minimum of one guard for every 48 inmates.

"The documentation revealed that the facility did not maintain the 1:48 officer to inmate staffing ratio at all times," St. Amant wrote.

The Hopkins County Commissioners Court has called special meetings Monday to tackle the problem. The court will first meet at 10:30 a.m. in the commissioners courtroom at the county courthouse to discuss the jail standards report. At 11 a.m., commissioners will convene to discuss overcrowding and possibly take action on the recommendations from the jail commission.

That could include approving agreements to house local inmates at the Franklin and Titus county jails, a potentially expensive proposition.

Millsap said the jail commission wants the Hopkins County jail to hold no more than 95 imates at a time, but today's jail census was 124.

At the going rate of $40 a day, Hopkins County would have to pay $1,160 a day to move 29 inmates to other counties.

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