New Proposal To Relieve Jail Overcrowding

Alternative plans are thrown out to cut down on jail overcrowding. Earlier this month, Smith County voters rejected two proposals to build a new jail.  Tuesday, county judges and attorneys unveiled a plan to free up space in the existing jail, until a new one can be built.

"Just juggling the numbers but not rethinking the approach to our facility needs is nothing but putting lipstick on a pig.  This is an effort to say there is no more room in the inn and so we either have the whole system break or we take a look at it from a new angle," says Judge Cynthia Kent, 114th District Smith County.

The plan includes a Day Reporting Center for nonviolent offenders.   That center would be for  defendants of child support cases, credit card and check violations, thefts, drug cases and other nonviolent offenses.  Judge Kent says around 200 inmates in the jail would be eligible for this type of program... saving the county money.

"We are not feeding them, we are not transporting them, there is public transportation that is a half block away from the courthouse. They are going home to their own house and not housing at night," says Judge Kent.

During the day, offenders would participate in programs like drug and alcohol counseling, job training and G.E.D. training.

"I am open to considering it, this or any other proposal that is brought to me as long as the safety of the victims in the community are not compromised and law enforcement are not burdened," says Matt Bingham, District Attorney for Smith County.

The cost of the alternative estimated $350,000 a year. Those funds would have to be approved by Smith County Commissioners.

"This sounds like a very sound plan, there are some revenue costs and we are going to have to find out where we are going to get the money from and pay for those costs. It's just something the court is going to have to think about," says JoAnn Hampton, Smith County Commissioner, Pct. 4.

Sheriff J.B. Smith says if the new concept works, it would be a positive alternative for Smith County.

"I think all the elements have to work together and if there is one that doesn't work the whole thing will collapse," says Sheriff Smith.

Judge Kent says if commissioners fund the program it could be in place in the next couple of months. Also by starting this Day Reporting Center, Judge Kent says this would give Smith County Commissioners time to develop a master plan for both a new jail and criminal courts facility.

Karolyn Davis, reporting.