Commissioners Discuss Jail Overcrowding Issues

Smith County officials are working on plans to solve the overcrowding problem at the jail. Last week, the State informed the county it must reduce the number of inmates at the jail by around 50, and hire 24 new jailers. At the commissioners court meeting Monday, officials discussed how to do that most effectively with the least effect on you.

For the past year, the county jail has been at or above it's capacity of 755 prisoners, and the number continues to grow.

"Last year we booked in approximately 14,000 (prisoners), this year if it keeps going the same way it's been going we'll book in over 15,000 prisoners into the Smith County jail," said Sheriff J.B. Smith.

County Commissioners discussed three options that would help to alleviate the problem:

Option #1 would cost the county $1 million. It would allow for the hiring of jailers, transferring prisoners to other jails to meet state requirements and keeping the federal prisoners it currently has which the county is reimbursed for.

Option #2 would cost about $2.3 million. No new jailers would be hired, prisoners would be transferred to other jails, and the county would keep housing federal prisoners.

Option #3 would cost about $1.6 million. It would allow for new hires and the transfer of prisoners, But would end the contract with the federal government.

All are immediate fixes, but commissioners say they're not a solution.

"I think we have to look at building new facilities and increasing our bed population," Commissioner, Precinct 2 Don Pinkerton said. "The jail population as we have been seeing is growing and growing and as the months go by it's not coming back down and we're anticipating as the county grows the jail population is going to grow with it."

For now commissioners are left to deal with a million dollar patch, for a much bigger problem. Those figures were based on numbers taken at the jail May 15th. The county is also looking at temporary housing and ultimately a new jail. Consultants hired by the county to evaluate those options will make a presentation to commissioners on Wednesday. Commissioners hope to make a decision on the immediate future within the next few weeks.

Chris Gibson, reporting