After jail bond defeat, it's back to the drawing board - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News


After jail bond defeat, it's back to the drawing board

Once again, voters have said no to the Smith County jail plan. The bond failed by a narrow margin. County Judge Joel Baker says he feels it's a good plan. He says the economic climate may have contributed to the $60 million plan's defeat.

Yesterday we spoke with Sheriff JB Smith before the results came down.

"If the public wants me to continue to ship prisoners out to other counties, that's okay with me. I hate to see that. Gregg County loves us because we're paying for their jail facilities with our prisoners," said Sheriff Smith.

Sheriff Smith says the county spends millions each year housing inmates in other counties, and until voters want a new jail, he says, he'll keep doing it.

So we wanted to know - what happens now? Today, KLTV 7's Layron Livingston spoke with a couple of Smith County judges, looking for some solutions to help them meet the county's ever growing criminal justice needs. They say all it takes is a little cooperation.

Meeting after meeting, failed jail bond after failed jail bond. County court at law judge Tom Dunn says there's a reason for that.

"We don't need more space to hold people. We need more courts," said Judge Dunn.

114th District Judge Cynthia Kent agrees.

"We had 321 felony cases filed each year in 1978. We had four district courts. We still have four and last year we had 32-hundred felony cases filed," said Judge Kent.

Kent, also a member of the What Part Of No committee, strongly opposed this latest jail plan.

As a judge, she says now's the time to think outside the box. She says it's already worked before, when the first jail bond failed 2 years ago.

"Judges, the district attorney, attorneys, probation department got together and we formulated a plan to give some relief to the commissioners court," said Judge Kent.

The result - the alternative incarceration program. Judge Kent says it's just one option that seems to be working.  

"That program is saving taxpayers millions of dollars, reducing the jail population," said Judge Kent.

And she feels other alternatives are out there.

"Drug courts, mental health courts, DWI courts, that focus on moving cases in a very expedited manner," she told KLTV 7 today.

As for the jail, now it's back to the judicial drawing board.

Earlier last month, the Smith County Council of Judges moved to request one more district court and one more county court at law from the Commissioner's court. County commissioners could approve that request and submit it to the state legislature this spring.

Layron Livingston, reporting.

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