• December 20, 2014

Coryell Co.approves contracts on inmates

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Posted: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 4:30 am

GATESVILLE — Coryell County commissioners on Monday came to new terms on interlocal agreements with two other counties to house overflow inmates from the crowded Coryell jail.

Even with increased fees to Milam and McLennan, the cost of housing inmates out of county is still cheaper than the cost of keeping prisoners in the Coryell County Jail.

The cost of keeping a Coryell inmate in the Milam County Jail for a day will rise from $43 to $45 in 2015 and $47 by 2020 under the terms of the new agreement.

Housing an inmate in the McLennan County Jail will now cost $46.50 a day, up from the previous fee of $45.

The commissioners unanimously voted to extend the contract with the new fees.

Coryell County spends $58 a day to house each inmate at the overcrowded jail in Gatesville, Commissioner Justin Latham said.

Coryell County has housed an average of 36 inmates out of county, mostly in Milam County, said Lt. Rita Thomas, jail administrator. County Judge John Firth said overflow inmates from Coryell are typically sent to Milam County. The McLennan County agreement would provide a backup plan if, for any reason, space were not available in the Milam jail.

“Milam has been working very well for us,” Thomas told commissioners. “They provide emergency pickup for us. It helps us tremendously. I have never had an agreement that works so flawlessly.”

Commissioner Daren Moore called the interlocal agreements “a wise use of taxpayer dollars while we work on long-term plans.”

The current jail, built in 1991 to house a maximum of 92 inmates, has been overcrowded for the past several years. In keeping with state jail standards, County Sheriff Johnny Burks said he tries to keep occupancy at 10 percent below maximum capacity. Of the available 82 jail beds, 16 are designated for female inmates, leaving the rest for males. In June, commissioners voted to select the site for a new 192-bed jail by June 2016 and to start construction in fiscal year 2017.

While Firth and Commissioner Jack Wall proposed an earlier start on the project, Moore, Latham and Commissioner Don Jones opted to delay construction because of high operating costs and debt service.

In 2011, when the county was trying to secure an $18.8 million rural-development loan from the Agriculture Department to build a new jail, voters approved a bond issue to pay off the loan. The commissioners last year rejected the loan proposal because it required completion of the project by April 2016.

While proponents of a new jail insisted the bond vote was a mandate for immediate action, County Attorney Brandon Belt said the vote was to “support an option for funding.” “If we built a jail now, we couldn’t open it” because of high operating costs, Moore said.

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