By Justin Cox
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON – It's the only one of its kind in Texas.
That's what Adan Munoz Jr., executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, said of the new Bell County Jail Saturday afternoon during an open house one month before prisoners will be brought into the new facility.
Munoz said he's been to every jail in the state of Texas, and not one of them equals the new Bell County Jail from top to bottom.
It's high praise, to be sure, causing more than a few raised eyebrows from members of the Bell County Commissioners Court who also attended Saturday's festivities.
Bell County sheriff's deputies catered to visitors during the open house, who arrived in small groups and individually, touring the 177,000-square-foot facility.
The master control room is one of the most revolutionary aspects of the new jail, said Cpl. Edmund Gouraige.
Manning a computer terminal while seated in centralized master control above the main level, Gouraige and fellow officers on top can look down to each of the surrounding pods and monitor prisoners.
But on this day, Gouraige, with access to every television monitor in the jail, entertained the wealth of visitors by zooming into the parking lot and finding the license plate numbers off the cars of requesting visitors.
"Ooh, can you do mine next?" one girl said, part of a growing group.
It's going to take some getting used to, Gouraige said, but the deputies are excited about the jobs ahead of them.
"The computer system is amazing," Gouraige said. "It's state of the art. We have so much visibility over inmates, it's amazing. You can only see so much in the old facility. Now you have direct supervision. Now you can look directly into the cells. Before you had to go down a hallway and actually look inside the cell. From the booth, I can see everything."
One after the other, people leaving and entering seemed to have the same reactions.
"We wanted to see what it was all about. ? I am very impressed," said Gloria Ribbeck. "I did not anticipate a facility quite this large, quite this modern, but very well protected and designed from top to bottom."
"It's just wonderful," said Ribbeck's fellow tour-goer, Wilma Butler. "They've thought it all out. I am impressed by the safety of the bridge leading to the courthouse. ? I think it's something Bell County can be proud of."
Sheriff Dan Smith has noted on many occasions that the new facility brings levels of technology seen nowhere else in Central Texas. And Smith, along with Jail Administrator Bob Patterson, stood in the main hallways to greet visitors and answer questions.
County Judge Jon Burrows said the new jail will be able to provide for the needs of inmates in a facility that is stretched to its limits and is having difficulty providing for some of the basic needs of the inmates, things that will be taken care of by the new facility.
The structure also allows for future expansion that can accommodate 600 more inmates. The $38 million facility incorporates video visitation technology, a digital intercom paging system and two-story inmate housing units.
Contact Justin Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568.