By Justin Cox

Killeen Daily Herald

BELTON – County officials hoped they could bring good tidings to the county with a new jail open in time for the holidays – but the open date will not come until the new year.

The Bell County Commissioners Court is coordinating with the office of Sheriff Dan Smith in the final preparations of the jail facility, which is now scheduled to be up and running by the end of January.

"We're looking at (January) before they could actually open it up with prisoners," Commissioner John Fisher said Monday. "We've got some modifications that need to be made, and the sheriff wants to make sure he's got plenty of training time for his deputies before they transfer (the prisoners)."

The commissioners already have approved, in principle, an interlocal agreement with Coryell County to house inmates from the Coryell County Jail at a time and cost to be determined in the future.

That is only one of several interested parties looking to get in on the space while they still can.

The upgrade is overdue for the county jail, which has struggled with high inmate populations for more than five years.

Bell County Jail Administrator Bob Patterson said preparations will be critical to ensuring the transition runs smoothly, including everyday processes such as the inmates' medical needs.

"Every jail has to have a jail services plan, a broad overview of the services we need to have available," Patterson said. "We need to determine how those services need to be delivered. We need 24-hour nursing services. We need to have these services, and it will be incumbent upon (the company that is hired) as to how best to carry it out."

Patterson added that there will be a 30-day period of training at the new facility to ensure jail officers are adept at carrying out protocol.

Once the new jail becomes operational, Bell County will have a housing capacity of 1,358 inmates. The facilities in downtown Belton have been stretched to the limit. The jail has experienced an average increase of 30 inmates per year in the past 25 years.

The Bell County Jail regularly operates above capacity. The population fluctuates dramatically, depending on court load and seasonal criminal activity. But as of Monday, the jail housed 724 inmates, 18 over its listed capacity.

In October 2006, the jail peaked at 822 inmates.

In January 2007, Gov. Rick Perry added the county's fifth court, the 426th, to alleviate the overloaded docket. Since that time, Smith said, the jail population has been a bit more manageable, though it is still overpopulated.

In other court actions:

The court accepted the official canvassing of election results and ballots for final approval.

Commissioner Tim Brown gave a collective "well done" to the team of staffers dealing with this year's record elections, led by County Clerk Shelley Coston and Election Clerk Jana Henderson.

"We take for granted that it works well here in Bell County," said County Judge Jon Burrows. "But it doesn't work well everywhere."

The court approved a three-week extension to the burn ban, which was set to expire Wednesday.

Contact Justin Cox at or (254) 501-7568.

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