Commissioners contract with Jasper to relieve jail overcrowding
Polk County Enterprise, May 2007
LIVINGSTON —County commissioners approved an interlocal agreement with Jasper County Tuesday to house overflow Polk County inmates at a cost of $35 per inmate per day.
Sheriff Kenneth Hammack said the jail reached capacity last week and contract space at IAH and Limestone County was full.
The Polk County Jail is certified for 110 beds, according to Jail Administrator Brent Phillips.
"The jail commission will tolerate an overage overnight," Phillips said. "If that continues for several days, they will send a bad letter and we have to give them a plan of attack for how we're going to prevent overcrowding."
The Jasper County agreement required Polk County staff to transport inmates to and from their facility, Hammack added.
Phillips said the rising jail population can be attributed to rising numbers of parolees and probationers who violate the terms of their release.
In February, commissioners court approved the issuance of certificates of obligation of up to $19 million to fund a 230-bed expansion at the site of the existing jail.
Classification standards set down by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards require officials to keep male and female inmates separated by sight and sound.
With the number of women being detained currently above state average and rising, jail officials recently converted an 10-bed tank to handle female inmates. But the female population has exceeded those 30 beds on several occasions, Phillips said.
A year and a half ago, the jail failed a state inspection because of persistent overpopulation, Phillips said.
"In the summer of 2005, we had close to 160 people in this jail," Phillips said. "We resolved that problem with the help of our justices of the peace, the county judge and the district judge. They worked with us and we got our population down."
How to resolve the jail population problems creates a dilemma for officials, Phililps adds.
"You can't just turn people loose. We're concerned with the safety of the county," Phililps said.
The problem of reaching capacity limits won't end until the expansion is complete, he said.
Studying trends used to reveal peak months in the number of inmates, but now there's no such thing as peak months — there's peak days of the week.
Jail officials have to be selective about which inmates are sent to out-of-county contract jail space.
"A lot of people are on medication and we can't send them off. We have to take care of them," Philips said.
Phillips said a recent statewide conference for jail administrators showed that most Texas counties are facing similar problems.
"They're all adding new facilities or adding on," Phillips said.
Parole violators and inmates waiting for beds in the Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facility (SAFPF) will typically be in Polk County's custody for months at a time.
"Someone on parole belongs to the State of Texas and we have to hold them until there's a disposition on their case — and that takes months," Phillips said.
It takes about six months to get an individual into the SAFPF program, he said.
"It's sad but it's a fact of life," Phillips said.
The county was also informed Tuesday that CiviGenics, Inc., the contractor that operates the IAH Detention Facility and 10 other facilities in Texas, has been purchased by Community Education Centers, Inc., a New Jersey corporation that provides rehabilitative and re-entry criminal justice programs.
"CiviGenics has been a great company to work with," County Judge John Thompson said. "We were aware of their ongoing negotiations and this will make them even stronger."
A statement from Community Education Centers released Tuesday said CiviGenics will continue to be operated as a wholly owned subsidiary.