Coryell County Jail again out of state compliance
By BRITTANY FHOLER
As of Tuesday morning, the Coryell County Jail was again nearing full capacity, with 91 inmates housed with the walls of the 92-bed facility, and a total of 45 more inmates housed in other counties’ jails.
This is after the Coryell County sheriff received a letter from the Texas Attorney General’s Office threatening action against the county if the jail’s overcrowding and noncompliance issues weren’t resolved.
During Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting, the commissioners and Sheriff Scott Williams discussed the much-needed next step for the county to avoid having the county’s jail closed by the state following the latest report of overcrowding and being out of compliance.
The court had been told yet again at its May 10 meeting about being out of compliance with the state, something which has occurred numerous times. The County Jail has a capacity of 92 beds, but the number of inmates housed in county has risen to more than 100 several times.
The issue with housing inmates has been going on for years, and with a $30 million bond proposal to build a new jail facility failing at the polls last May.
Currently, Coryell County has agreements with eight other Texas counties to house overflow inmates to include Bosque, Burnet, Erath, Grimes, Limestone, McLennan, Mills and Milam Counties.
Judge Miller explained that he and the sheriff attended a meeting with the Texas Commission of Jail Standards last Thursday to provide an update of where the county was at in addressing its problem of an overcrowded jail facility.
“One of the comments that resonated with me was that the governing body had not moved forward and taken action,” Miller said, referring to a comment by Williams. “I want to know from the Sheriff, what can this court do to support you that we’re not doing right now?”
Williams said that he has sounded like a broken record over the last five years in talking about this.
“I don’t need the heartache of building of a new jail or adding on to a new jail, but that’s where we are,” he said. “We’re out of compliance due to overcrowding. I’m losing my staff left and right.”
Williams added that he is currently going to be 16 employees short by the end of May due to several leaving this month “because they’re tired of working like Hebrew slaves for very little money, and I’m just going to tell you, it’s that critical.”
Finding eligible applicants is proving to be a problem and current employees are able to find higher-paying jobs elsewhere. For example, County Attorney Brandon Belt shared during the previous Commissioners’ Court meeting that McLennan County was offering new jailers a salary of $40,000.
“I’m telling you, the Coryell County Jail is failing, and I spent five and a half years talking about it,” Williams said. “I’m tired of talking about it.”
The “nuclear” option posed by the State was to shut the Coryell County Jail down, according to Williams.
“I can’t find 20 beds to get in compliance,” Williams said. “What am I going to do with-let me rephrase that- what are we going to do with 150?”
Williams said he has never had a full staff for as long as he’s been there and that the county needs to start taking about putting beds together, working on salaries and working on overtime.
“Is throwing money at it going to help? No, but like I said before it might keep what we’ve got,” Williams said.
“We need to work on something to attract personnel and alleviate our own crap,” Williams said. “And when we do entertain another bond election, maybe we ought to even get on the same page…to where our constituents can have the right information to make an accurate vote. That’s what I’m asking.”
“I’d be on board with that,” said Miller.
“Should have been on board to begin with, but we weren’t,” Williams told Miller.
“Nope, we weren’t,” Miller said. “A lot of questions were unanswered.”
“A lot of questions were given false narratives too,” Williams countered.
Williams reminded the court that at this time last year, Milam County had 60 Coryell County inmates, but at this time, they have six, due to staffing issues for them as well.
The topic of temporary housing was brought up, as well as “tent cities” which had been mentioned during the May 10 meeting.
Williams said the county already mostly releases its low security threat inmates on bonds. During a previous meeting, he said the types of inmates in the Coryell County Jail are “rapists, murderers and just straight killers.”
County Attorney Brandon Belt said during the May 10 meeting that there are people that have had to be let out that he didn’t want to.
“There’s one siting up there right now that I’m not going to let out,” Belt said. “She can just sit over there. She ain’t going to kill nobody on my watch. I don’t care. If they want to come shut down the jail because she’s in there, fine. They can come on. I’m ready.”
Williams added during the May 10 meeting that his office would not stop enforcing the law due to a lack of beds.
One vendor that has been approved by the TCJS has said that they could have a temporary unit on the ground and operational in 40 to 60 days, for medium security inmates, that would be leased, said Matthews.
Commissioners asked Williams to provide a weekly update of how many inmates were in county versus out of county and how many were what type of security classification.
“We can get it at a medium because I don’t think we’ve got the low-I think they’re mostly out there on the street with the one or two exceptions. Who we have incarcerated right now is either a medium or a high risk,” Miller said. He said he wanted to see how many beds the county would need for a temporary facility, and then how much additional staff the jail will need.
Commissioners directed the County Attorney to begin developing a Request for Proposals (RFP) for temporary inmate housing “in the near future” for no less than medium security beds.