Smith County Struggles to Solve Jail Crowding

Smith County tries to solve the jail overcrowding problem before it starts to affect taxpayers. Earlier this year, Smith County was found in violation of Texas guidelines on inmate population.

Monday morning at the County Commissioner's Meeting, Sheriff J.B. Smith said he has a plan to fix the problem. He wants the county to build a new Minimum Risk Jail next to the current Medium Risk Facility. Smith says the Minimum Risk building would be much less expensive to build than other jails because it needs fewer high tech security measures.

The Sheriff's Department developed the plan after taking an in depth look at the overcrowding problem. What they discovered was while some inmates had to sleep on the floor, other parts of the jails had empty beds.

Monday afternoon, the Medium Risk Jail in Smith County had 24 more inmates than it is supposed to hold. So several men have to sleep on mattresses on the floor. But just across the hall, in the women's cell, there are 16 empty bunks. There is also room available at the downtown Maximum Risk Jail. But, Sheriff Smith says that doesn't solve the problem either.

"The problem lies with classification of prisoners. You can't take an 18 year old kid who's in for DWI and put him or her in a jail cell with convicted felons who are violent."

So, Sheriff Smith wants to build more cells designed to hold nonviolent prisoners. Most of these inmates are here for a few days to a few months at a time, and are not considered a flight risk. But they are the major source of overcrowding.

"Our main objective is to house these people, do it safely, not only for them, but for the public, and for the employees and the detention officers, and at the same time meet state requirements."

And, Smith wants to build the new Low Risk Facility as soon as possible, before the state decides to hand down its own solution.

"If we don't show due diligence that we're trying to move forward, we may have to ship prisoners to other counties at the tune of $36 to $40 a day. That's a lot of money."

Money Sheriff Smith believes is better spent building a jail than passing our problems onto someone else.

The Commissioner's Court did not take any action on Sheriff Smith recommendation Monday. Smith says he wants to do more research before the issue is presented for a vote.