Commissioners discuss jail compliance, housing inmates

Cove Leader-Press

The Coryell County Commissioners discussed the county’s plans to stay in compliance with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards during their regular meeting Tuesday. 
As reported in the Leader-Press on Friday, April 30, the Coryell County Sheriff’s Office was notified mid-April that the jail was found out of compliance due to overcrowding by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, following an inspection on April 14.
Prior, the TCJS had requested that the CCSO provide to the state weekly reports on population numbers within the jail, including those inmates who are “paper ready” to be sent to Texas Department of Criminal Justice facilities. On April 8, Coryell County had provided the requested information, where it was determined that their population was 103, which was over the rated facility capacity number of 92. After further review, it was revealed that the county had been housing inmates over capacity, with several days in early to mid-April having the population at or near 100. The number dropped down on April 14 as inmates were sent to another county. 
Coryell County was then required to send daily reports of inmate population numbers and to develop a plan of action within 30 days, with input from county stakeholders in order to prevent overcrowding issues, according to the TCJS non-compliance report.
Coryell County Attorney Brandon Belt expressed his frustration and disappointment on Tuesday morning with the Commissioners on the issue. 
“I’ll be honest with you gentlemen, y’all’s term is about to get aggravating. I’m tired of it,” Belt said. “I don’t know what the holdup is. I don’t know why we can’t get it together. I don’t know why nobody seems to have a sense of urgency about this issue, but if something isn’t done, y’all ain’t going to have to worry about it. The Commission will be running our jail. They’ll be talking to these other counties. They’ll be negotiating some contracts. They’ll be sending us a deal. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m tired of it. I don’t know what else to say but y’all better get together and solve this problem or I’m going to. It’s going to be very unpleasant.”
By Tuesday, the 30-day period was coming to an end before a response was required. 
With voters overwhelmingly voting against the issuance of a $30.9 million bond for the construction of a new jail facility, Coryell County is stuck having to find space in other counties. 
Coryell County currently has agreements with six counties: Bosque, Burnet, Limestone, McLennan, Mills and Milam County. These agreements do not specify how many inmates the counties will take from Coryell County, though. 
County Judge Roger Miller said that he has spoken with Sheriff Scott Williams once and has spoken with Burnet County Judge and the Burnet County jail administrator regarding Burnet County’s bed space. 
“Burnet County is the county that has the most available bed space, and I think at this point what our interlocal agreements with other counties, one of the items they’ve never addressed was guaranteed bed space, how many spaces would be guaranteed, so that is what I proposed to Judge [James] Oakley from Burnet County…and in talking to the jail administrator from Burnet County, he indicated that they do have the capacity to do that. I just have not been able to close the loop with our Sheriff and Sheriff Boyd from Burnet County,” Miller said. 
The Commissioners also discussed other counties as a possibility such as Tom Green County, Erath County and even possibly Williamson County. Miller said he has not reached out to the larger counties like Williamson County, but Matthews said he thought that Bell County had an agreement with Williamson County for housing inmates. 
A common problem with contracting with other counties to house inmates out of county is that those other counties usually do one for one swap. 
During Tuesday’s meeting, Miller said that he wanted the response plan to mention the different contract agreements as well as set a target number to work towards for the number of inmates at the jail. 
“I think it should have a target of how we operate internally because I think if we can get down to 75 or 80 within the jail, I think that would probably put less stress on y’all, knowing that you would have a little bit of flexibility and some time to be able to get some people in, find some spaces and get them out,” Miller said. 
Commissioner Kyle Matthews shared that the county currently has 21 inmates that are “paper ready”.
Belt said that from the courts’ perspective, “it would be better if it could be more of them in one place for an extended period of time because it would be much easier to deal with the transportation and technical communications issues if they were mostly in one place and they were going to be there for a while, we would be able to work those issues out, where they work on a regular basis and there was some continuity.
“That’s the reason why I agree with the judge- if we could get somebody that had space to man that space and dedicate it to us, it would be wonderful, and that’s what we need, in my opinion, to be working on,” Belt said. 
The Texas Commission on Jail Standards is expecting the county’s response regarding creation of a plan to fix its overcrowding issue, with the deadline set for 30 days after the jail was found to be non-compliant on April 16, which gives the county until Friday, May 14, to respond. 
The Commissioners reconvened Thursday morning at 9 a.m. after recessing rather than adjourning from their regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday. Sheriff Scott Williams is the person who is meant to be drafting the response, but the status of the response was unclear during Tuesday’s meeting as the sheriff was out of town at a conference. 
On Thursday, the Commissioners approved authorizing the sheriff to enter into an agreement with Erath County for housing inmates out of county for a rate of $50 per inmate per day, dependent upon changes to the contract which was drafted by Erath County. 
The sheriff was present during Thursday’s meeting. Belt suggested that the judge and sheriff come up with their own points to send to him so he could draft the final response to send out by Monday morning. He requested that the response included all that the county is doing with a list of its interlocal agreements with other counties and how many inmates are in each county, the last time the county had more than 92 inmates in its jail and how frequently, as well as what its plans are for contracting with more counties or expanding the number of inmates it can send to existing counties. 

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