More Developments - And Disagreements - Over New Smith County Jail

County expanisions and renovations are leading to another jail plan on the Smith County ballot.

After two months of workshops, the Smith County Commissioners today announced their commitment to address long-existing facility problems, maximizing existing space - and your money.

Judge Joel Baker says the court has been working hard on the plans that will mean many county offices will be able to relocate.

"It's going to take some time because we are doing it without creating additional debt for the county. The only portion of the statement that would include create additional debt is the jail and that is pending voter approval," says Judge Baker.

But - not so fast, says Smith County Judge Cynthia Kent. She says a new jail is not the only answer. She told KLTV 7 News Monday that adding new courts would do more to solve the overcrowding problems than adding new jail beds.

After 23 years on the bench, Judge Kent is about to retire. However, she still has some unfinished business with the Smith County Commissioners.

"Thirty years ago we handled 321 criminal cases per year. Last year, there were 3200 criminal cases filed. Obviously we are doing 10 times the amount of work, with the same Judge power we had 30 years ago," says Judge Kent.

That increased workload and the lack of new courts, Judge Kent says, are adding to the jail's overcrowding. "We are just increasing the funnel of cases that are coming in and backlogging our jail, and if this is the spout that the funnel has to flow through, that hasn't increased in 30 years. We need more courts to do the work. So, instead of spending taxpayer's money trying to jail-build out of an overcrowding problem, let's try to case-dispose more courts, moving the cases quicker."

Judge Kent also said that much of the jail's backlog are felony cases, and could be solved with the addition of two district courts.

"To do that, the Commissioners need to consider passing a resolution asking for the legislature to create two new district courts, and get that through our representatives and our senator."

Judge Joel Baker agrees with Judge Kent - to a certain extent. "We agree with her that additional courts can help cases quicker, but where we disagree whether or not we need additional jail bed space."

Judge Baker said commissioners have until the fall to sign such a resolution, and feels confident they will do so.

Danielle Capper /