By Michelle Guffey

Killeen Daily Herald

BELTON – The population at the Bell County Jail once again exceeded its total capacity Tuesday, with officials expecting to begin housing inmates in Milam County by the end of the week.

Tuesday's total jail population was 740 – 34 over capacity. The recent high Friday was 754.

"Don't know much else we can do," said Bob Patterson, Bell County Jail administrator.

In April, county commissioners approved a contract with Milam County to start housing inmates at its new 160-bed jail facility. Bell County will be able to house up to 25 inmates at $45 per inmate per day.

"We're working on a Friday shipment," Patterson said.

Inmates who are sent to Milam County's jail in Cameron, about 55 miles east of Killeen, will be those who are awaiting transfer to a state prison. No pretrial inmates will be housed out of county.

The Bell County Jail has a capacity of 706 inmates, but the facility has to have a certain amount of breathing room to segregate inmates – males from females, violent offenders from nonviolent offenders.

Inmates bound for the penitentiary are picked up by the state within about three weeks, although the state has 45 days to do so.

Patterson told the commissioners last spring that Texas wasn't building any new prisons and that if a backup occurred at the state level, the state could legally circumvent any contracts counties have with one another regarding the leasing of space for prisoners.

Overcrowded jails run the risk of not passing an annual inspection by the Texas Jail Standards Commission, paving the way for expensive lawsuits.

In March, the Bell County Jail passed the annual inspection for the 20th consecutive year. One week after approving the contract with Milam County, Bell County commissioners approved the building of a 630-bed jail addition to alleviate overcrowding. County Judge Jon Burrows said construction should begin in January 2007.

"We're in the process of selecting a construction manager within the next month or two," he said, commenting that the project is expected to take 20 months to complete. "That will get us into August, two years from now."

Three years ago, the county tried to pass two 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, but without a jail addition.

The new jail addition will cost approximately $42 million at 3.5 cents on the tax rate per $100 property valuation and will be situated next to the new Bell County Justice Complex on Loop 121 in Belton.

During the recent primary elections, one of the questions brought up was why the commissioners decided to build a new district courts building first instead of a jail addition. The current district court's elevators, stairs, restrooms and air handlers needed to be brought up to code by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation by Sept. 1, 2005. Failure to comply with these codes would have resulted in penalties up to $5,000 per day.

Contact Michelle Guffey at

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