Taxpayers To Pay $3 Million For Jail

Taxpayers, get ready to shell out more dollars to solve the problem of jail overcrowding in Smith County.

Sheriff J.B. Smith and County Commissioner Don Pinkerton just returned from Austin this afternoon, where they met with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. They were told the Smith County Jail is not in compliance and were given an order to comply with state laws.

We're talking about $3 million a year to bring the Smith County Jail into compliance. There are several problems the county has to address and they all have to do with jail over-population.

According to Smith, just four months ago, there were about 600 inmates in the jail. Today, there are more than 900, which is about 150 more than the limit. The jail population is growing faster than ever before, but the problem of over-crowding began several years ago.

"In the year 2000, we booked in approximately 12,000 people," Smith said. "Last year, 2003, we booked in over 14,000."

"It's always better to address the problem head-on and be on the offensive than being on the defensive," Pinkerton, of Precinct 2, said. "And now that we're on the defensive, we have to do more reactionary work, which is going to be more expensive."

So what has to happen now? First, Smith County will have to ship out more than 150 inmates to other county jails in Texas to bring the jail population back down to the limit, which is 755. To comply with state law, the jail must also hire two dozen more jailers to keep the ratio of one jailer for every 48 inmates.

The county is also planning to build a new jail in the next few years to house more inmates here.

County Judge Becky Dempsey also attended the meeting in Austin. The county plans to bring up the jail compliance issue at an upcoming commissioners court meeting, likely within the next few weeks.

Julie Tam, reporting.