Out-of-county inmate housing adding up
Polk County Enterprise - February 25, 2007 - March 4, 2007
By VALERIE REDDELL
Special Sections Editor
LIVINGSTON – The inmate population has spiked over the last month at the Polk County jail, forcing officials to spend $15,204 housing prisoners at outside facilities for 626 inmate-days.
Sheriff Kenneth Hammack said the jail typically has 95 to 100 inmates in an average month.
“This month we booked in 267 and released 237 so that’s an increase of 30 inmates.”
The jail has a maximum capacity of 119, depending on the gender and classification of the inmates in custody at any given time.
Once the jail is full, Hammack said they send inmates to the IAH Detention Center where 25 additional beds are allocated.
The facility owner, CiviGenics charges the county $24 per inmate per day, Hammack said.
Once those 25 beds are filled, inmates are moved to Limestone County, which charges $44 per day.
The CiviGenics contract includes transportation, Hammack added. This prevents having to reassign county jailers or deputies from other duties to handle the transfers, he said.
When Hammack has to resort to sending inmates to Limestone County, those awaiting transfer to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice – Institutional Division are the first to go, the sheriff said.
In PCSO’s report to Commissioner’s Court Monday, 10 inmates were awaiting transfer to state prisons.
TDCJ has 45 days to accept the inmates before they begin paying the county for housing the inmate.
The increased jail population hasn’t been tied to a single specific cause, but several recent drug arrests contributed to the increase.
Several outstanding felony warrants have been served and the sheriff’s department and constables have made several drug-related arrests.
At Christmas, Hammack said the entire inmate population was being housed at the county jail.
In a Jan. 1 report from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the Polk County facility was 78 percent full, records show.
Ninety-three inmates were in custody: 11 convicted felons and 27 awaiting trial on felony charges.
The Jan. 1 population included 12 cases involving state jail felonies, five being held for parole violations and 26 misdemeanor cases.
The jail commission recently prepared a needs assessment report recommending a 340-bed facility for Polk County.
“If we build one that size and don’t fill it up with our folks, there’s a possibility we could lease space out to other agencies,” Hammack said.
The county jail is currently staffed with three to four jailers on the floor, Hammack said. Another jailer is assigned to the picket that controls doors and access from one area of the jail to another.
That staff member also handles booking, classification and processing inmates into and out of the jail, he added.
State law requires at least one correctional officer per 48 inmates, depending on the facility’s floor plan.
To handle a full complement of 340 beds, seven or eight jailers would be needed.
The county faces an additional challenge when it comes to detaining juveniles.
Juveniles are housed in Conroe, if beds are available, Hammack said. At times they must transport young offenders as far away as Austin to find available space.
Since juveniles must appear before a judge every few days, officers are required to make frequent round trips between the juvenile center and the courthouse.
A new video conferencing system is set to come online soon to streamline that process.
“Jean LeBlanc has been the driving force behind this effort,” Hammack said.
When the system goes online, judges will be able to hold arraignment hearings through video-conferencing, reducing the number of transports.
The video link will help with adult court appearances too, according to Hammack.
“Now when we have docket call, we have to load up 12 to 20 folks and take them to the courtroom and sit there until they’re through,” Hammack said. “Video-conferencing will allow the judge to talk to them here. Even their attorney could visit with them from the courthouse.”