Public servants Jailers called upon to multi-task
Houston County Courier
By Lynda Jones
The projected completion date for the new Houston County Justice Center is Oct. 29, and as the photo shows, the building is looking like a building now, complete with flags flying in front. The HCJC will house the county jail, equipped to hold more inmates than the current facility. The current jail has 80 beds, and the new facility will have 144, said Sheriff Darrel Bobbitt in a Courier interview. He also explained that the jail staff has to control assignments to cells according to the type of inmates they have. For example, a woman can not be put in a cell with a man, and a violent individual may require a single cell away from others. The jailers are an important part of the justice equation. The common perception sometimes is that jailers just sit and watch the folks in the cells, but Bobbitt clarifies that is definitely not the case. The typical day at the jail starts at 4 a.m., Bobbitt said, when the kitchen staff starts getting breakfast prepared. While the kitchen may close down about 7 or 8 p.m., a cook may be pulled between 10-11 p.m. if a transport officer comes in with someone who needs a sandwich after being on the road for several hours. One of the duties of a jailer is the booking process, which can take about an hour, Bobbitt explained. First, the inmate must be fingerprinted and electronically entered into the state system. Then, the jailer must enter the inmate’s information into the Houston County files. Jailers also are responsible for moving inmates, which Bobbitt said is frequently. He explained the inmates require escorts to see lawyers, doctors, recreation, court for arraignments and visitors. Additionally, they must make sure laundry is clean and distributed, supply hygiene items and distribute mail. Many times all may be quiet, Bobbitt said, when the jailer gets a call over the intercom from someone needing toilet paper. Jailers make rounds at least once an hour, and every 15 minutes if someone is on a suicide watch, the sheriff said. A lot of people have a mindset that county jail inmates should be treated by Texas Department of Corrections inmates, Bobbitt said. The big difference between the two, the sheriff explained, is that Houston County Jail inmates are only accused of a crime, not convicted. As such, he reminds the public, he and his department work hard to treat everyone in the county jail humanely and respectively. The county inmates are innocent until proven guilty, Bobbitt emphasized. At this time, the county has 10 jailers. Bobbitt also discussed the fact that these 10 are not on duty 24-7. He said he has to factor in vacation time, holidays, sick days and shifts when he staffs the jail. The Houston County Commissioners Court budgeted for additional jailers when it approved its FY2011 budget. Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series on county and city departments, with a focus on who they are and what they do.