Up, up and...locked up!

By Layron Livingston - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - email

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - It's a tune some East Texans have heard before, and some say the record is broken. Smith County Commissioners are tossing around, yet another, Smith County Jail plan. Voters have now said no to four different jail plans in three different jail bond elections. But tax payers may be off the hook this time.

Call it thinking on top of the box.

"If the public sees that we're taking steps to build a reasonable jail to take care of the current need without causing a tax increase," said Smith County Judge Joel Baker. "I think that maybe we'll get some support."

Baker took us to the roof of his office for a better look. The plan is to build up on top of the existing jail. He says it's not a new idea.

"There's been so many discussions about what we can do with the jail," said Baker. "It just went another direction."

What's in the works? They plan on adding one more floor and nearly 150 new beds for about $15 million, or adding two floors for about $22 million, making space for nearly 300 new beds.

Both plans would include a first floor renovation, adding an infirmary along with increasing technology and enhancing safety for jail employees.

"If we had done this early on, we probably would have the place would have almost been paid for by now," said Baker.

"Whatever the Commissioners Court decides to do for me, I will sincerely appreciate it," said Smith County Sheriff J.B. Smith.

He says, since 2004, the county has spent $14 million housing hundreds of inmates in other counties. He says he needs more room, but so far voters have not agreed.

"The public supports law enforcement and they support the sheriff's office," said Smith. "They just don't want to build a jail."

"This one almost reeks of desperation," said attorney Ken Good who was one of those voters.

He says it's a step in the right direction but only puts a band-aid on the bleeding jail plan wound.

"Three years ago it wasn't feasible, two years ago it wasn't feasible, a year ago it wasn't feasible," said Good. "Take our word for it. Were they lying then, are they lying now?

"Not trying to do this as a feather in my cap," said Baker. "This something we need to do."

For now, the issue is still up in the air.

Judge Baker told us the county already budgets around $2 million each year to house inmates to other counties. That money would be used for the expansion project. No official plans have been finalized, but Judge Baker says, regardless of who pays for it, he would want approval from voters.

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