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Jail needs top of county priorities

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060922 jail needsThe Trinity County Jail is at the end of its useful life, leaving county officials with a quandary of what to do for the future. Photo by Tony Farkas

By Tony Farkas
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GROVETON — The Trinity County Jail is a product of another age, and its inadequate size, failing systems and overtaxed use has become a problem, one of proper law enforcement for the Sheriff’s Office, and one of costs for the Commissioners’ Court.

The jail was built in 1939 as part of the Works Progress Administration. Under current jail standards, it can house only seven prisoners, but has held more in the past.

County Judge Doug Page said that the average daily prisoner count hovers around 50 prisoners a day, 43 of which are housed in other facilities. Female prisoners are moved to the Montgomery County Jail, and the county has contracts with Walker, Grimes, Houston and Falls counties for the other prisoners.

“We’re paying anywhere from $38 to $45 per day per prisoner to house inmates,” Page said. “From October 2021 to April, we’ve spent $271,500 out of a budgeted $400,000. Any given year we spend one-quarter to one-half million dollars housing prisoners out of county. That is just for housing; it does not include transportation costs.”

On Facebook, Sheriff Woody Wallace there is a possibility that the daily rate charged by other counties is expected to increase to $55-$75 per day within 2-5 years, increasing increase costs to more than $1 million per year.

Wallace also said there are other issues with the current facility, namely that it has cast iron sewer pipes that are failing.

Additionally, his dispatchers are doubling as jailers, and all are working 12-hour shifts, and about 50 felony warrants and 75 misdemeanor warrants are being held because of the space issues.

A needs assessment performed by the Texas Commission on jail standards describes the current jail as having one separation cell, three single inmate cells and one cell with a capacity of three.

In order to operate at all, the jail has been granted eight variances from minimum jail standards set by the state, according to the assessment. Those variances include square footage of cell space, no day room, inadequate ceiling height, insufficient number of exits and improper stairway width.

The assessment also states that population trends show that criminal activity will only grow in the next 40 years; by 2040, the county will need at minimum 48 jail beds.

Page said the county needs a jail. The assessment recommends construction of a 96-bed facility.

Toward that end, a committee was formed, and recently the architectural firm DRG was hired and will be meeting with county officials including Page, Wallace and County Attorney Colton Hay.

The questions of cost and size remain.

“We need to determine if we can we afford it, and where does it go,” Page said. “Our jail budget is $845,000; we can add a little bit to that and operate a 72-bed jail. The kicker, though, is paying for the construction. However, if something isn’t done, then state can take over and that would be costly.”

Page said the county will know more soon.

“We’re addressing the problem as fast as we can,” he said.

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