By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON Bell County Commissioners on Monday heard warnings from Sheriff Dan Smith and Jail Admin-istrator Bob Patterson about impending jail overcrowding.
Smith and Patterson, saying that something would have to be done soon to relieve crowding, reported that at 8 a.m. Monday, the jail held 693 in-mates with a capacity of 706. Of these, 44 were parole violators, and 49 were pa-per-ready for the Texas De-partment of Criminal Jus-tice, meaning they are convicted felons ready to be transferred to the state prison system as soon as its ready to take them.
The sheriff said convicted felons are usually paper-ready within a week, but the inmates typically remain in the county jail about 45 days.
The average daily population for the last six months has been 666. The ADP for the last six weeks has been 696. Over the last several years, the jail population has crept up an additional 29 inmates per year, he said.
The figures mean the jail is facing overcrowding soon, and that would throw the jail out of compliance with requirements of the Federal Commission on Jail Standards. The sheriff said, We have been in compliance in every other way for 18 years, but loss of certification would put the county at grave risk of successful lawsuits if overcrowding caused illness or injury, and it could mean loss of insurance.
He said in a written statement, Any time the population surpassed the intended design capacity, the propensity toward more violent behavior increases dramatically. Cramped quarters create increased tension among the population, and overcrowding can lead to sanitary issues if left unchecked.
Potential associated costs include:
n Injuries due to altercation.
n Treatment for communicable diseases.
n Supplies for increased sanitation.
n Additional jail staff.
n Possible increased litigation expenses.
He said a statewide overcrowding problem in the 1990s was widely handled by early release, which resulted in a spike in the crime rate.
He said the county could seek conditional certification if a new jail were being built, but Commissioner Richard Cortese noted that the county is facing a jail crisis in six months, and construction of a new jail would take two years, leaving the real problems the sheriff enumerated unresolved.
Considering temporary fixes, Smith said Milam County Sheriff Charles West sent a letter saying he could offer Bell County 30 beds of a new 160-bed jail available in April 2006 at $40 to $45 per bed per day. The Jail Standards Commission reported that a survey showed 187 jail facilities have no beds available for leasing. Twenty reported 50 or more beds available, but many counties are not interested in leasing.
A private concern called Civigenics operates jails at a number of locations, and Bell County could lease beds at $50 per day if the TDCJ doesnt take up available space first.
Without additional leased space, the sheriff said, the county will have to double-bunk by using sleds, or plastic stackable beds that can hold mattresses to avoid inmates having to sleep on the floor, but this would not alleviate the other problems brought on by crowding.
Smith said he did not expect an immediate crisis unless the countys population increased suddenly and dramatically, but he was making the commissioners and the public aware of the problem. He said that if the state would take the prisoners designated for the TDCJ more quickly, the problem would be far less critical.
Contact Don Bolding at firstname.lastname@example.org