By Michelle Guffey
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON With the looming threat of jail overcrowding, Bell County officials are entering into an agreement with Milam County to lease jail space in its newly-constructed 160-bed jail facility that is opening this week.
Commissioners Monday authorized County Judge Jon Burrows to enter into an interlocal agreement with Milam County to lease jail space for Bell County prisoners as well as approving a budget amendment of $250,000 from now until the end of the fiscal year to fund the agreement.
"Milam County has offered to enter into a contract with Bell County to house up to 25 inmates at a daily rate of $45," Sheriff Dan Smith said. "I came to this body last November and gave you information about the availability of leasing space and said it was inevitable."
Inmates that are sent to Milam County's jail in Cameron, about 55 miles east of Killeen on the other side of Interstate 35, will be those who are awaiting transfer to a state prison. No pretrial inmates will housed out of county.
Over the last two years between March and the fall months, the daily Bell County Jail population has increased an average of 98.65.
Smith said the seasonal highs typically occur in August, September and October. The single highest day occurred on Oct. 1, 2004, with 759 inmates 53 over capacity. Last Friday, the population was 698.
In March, the Bell County Jail went through its annual jail inspection with the Texas Jail Standards Commission and for the 20th consecutive year were found to be in compliance.
"There are only 11 or 12 jails throughout Texas that has that kind of record," Smith said. "We're the only jail with over 200 inmates that has that kind of record."
Jail Administrator Bob Patterson told the commissioners that if something isn't done to alleviate the jail overcrowding, the county will have a difficult time passing the next inspection.
"Texas is not building at all," Patterson said. "If a back-up at the (state) prison occurs, they will be able to bump county contracts."
This means the state would be able to circumvent the contract with Milam County.
"Generally speaking, the county ends up on the short end of the stick," Smith said.
In Bell County, the system is moving inmates through very fast. A convicted inmate bound for the penitentiary is ususally picked up within three weeks, though the state has up to 45 days.
Smith said that there are some instances where inmates have been incarcerated at the jail for an unusual amount of time. Some inmates such as Carolyn Law, in the Bell County Jail for four years before she went to trial in February and was convicted, do not move through very quickly because of outside influences such as lab work or legal snafoos or a sanity evaluation.
The jail has a capacity of 706 inmates. But the facility has to have a certain amount of breathing room to segregate inmates males from female, violent offenders from non-violent offenders.
"You run the risk of people being put together that don't need to be together and someone gets hurt," Smith said.
In the past 26 months, the jail population has exceeded 700 inmates 85 times.
"There could also be a substantial increase" in illegal immigrants at the jail, Patterson said.
Patterson assured the commissioners that if the county had a new jail, he would be filling it with inmates leased from other counties, filling the count's coffers.
Three years ago, the county tried to pass two separate bonds that would have funded a new jail addition and district courts complex. Both were defeated. The commissioners were able to build a new district courts building, opeing in May, but without a jail addition.
Following the trends for the past two years, Smith predicts that this fall, the jail population could reach 772.
Contact Michelle Guffey at firstname.lastname@example.org