Sheriff, County Commissioners Address Overcrowding - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

11/26/03-Smith County

Sheriff, County Commissioners Address Overcrowding

Over the past 90 days hundreds of Smith County inmates have been forced to spend the night on the ground. The jail has just 755 beds, but at times has been forced to house up to 870 inmates. Sheriff J.B Smith says he has a few ideas about where to put the extra prisoners, but so does the state.
"Personally it wouldn't bother me a bit to sleep prisoners on the ground like I had to do in the military, wouldn't bother me in the least, but that's not what the law says and we have to do what state law says."
That law forced a special meeting between the Sheriff and County Commissioners on November 25th.  County Judge Becky Dempsey headed up that meeting and says the problem is no surprise.
"It was no surprise, because we know we've been overcrowded for sometime now. and so we've been looking at short term solutions to the problem."
The most viable solution is temporary housing, but it comes at a cost. Preliminary figures show Smith County would need at least 96 additional beds. Buildings to house those beds would cost around $700,000 dollars. Smith County officials don't want to put the burden of that cost on you.
"I think the taxpayers have the right to expect their elected officials to work together to come up with innovative ways to get inside some of these problems and come up with creative ways to solve them instead of constantly coming to the taxpayers asking for more money," Dempsey said.
The county has many options, what it's short on, is time.
"The reality is that we're going to have to build a new jail whether we're forced into by the court system or we do it on our own," Smith said. "It's going to be much cheaper to do it on our own.

Chris Gibson, reporting

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