NEW BRAUNFELS — Comal County officials are studying the idea of a new jail. A number of county justice officials have been visiting area facilities and talking with potential architects in recent weeks.
With crowding issues prompting jail officials to turn away inmates sentenced to night and weekend stays, it’s time to look at a new county jail, Sheriff Bob Holder said Tuesday.
Holder talked to reporters outside the jail following Sunday’s articles in the Herald-Zeitung highlighting crowding issues and a new pre-trial bond release program designed to take lesser offenders out of county custody quicker.
“It’s time now to look at expanding or building,” he said.
Holder said the county needs a facility that can house up to 800 inmates — at a minimum. The current jail, constructed in 1985 and added onto between 1998 and 2000, holds a maximum of 337 inmates. However, jail administrator Maj. John Wells said that because of the facility’s design and the need not to mix more serious offenders with lesser offenders, the actual capacity is often far less.
It’s outdated, Holder said.
“It was a grand place in its time. It’s a linear jail, versus the pod system. It takes more guards,” he said.
Holder said county officials are on the same page on jail crowding issues.
“We’re working closely with the courts ... Everyone in the county government understands what our issues are ... Right now, we’re trying to make sure we don’t get in non-compliance with the State Jail Commission,” he said.
“Our residents should know all of our officials are working together on this ... it takes us all working together,” Holder said, adding residents should rest assured that offenders who are more dangerous are going to be locked up.
“The courts are doing their job — they will assess them, and (the CCSO) will assess them on their threat level,” he said. “We’re very good at determining the threat level ... We’re going to continue to do our job with the resources we have.”
Holder pointed to the 35 percent growth the county has seen over the past decade since the jail’s capacity was expanded to 337 around the year 2000.
“We’re going to have to grow because of the growth in our county,” he said. “Who knew the population growth would come so quickly here? It’s hard to forecast.
“We’re a tourist community ... and San Antonio is right next door. It’s a very busy area,” he said. “It’s not like San Antonio, but it’s not Mayberry. And I’m not Andy (Griffith). It needs a correctional facility to accommodate the community.”
A number of county officials recently visited the new 650-bed Bell County jail in Belton.
Bell County purchased a 75-acre tract for their jail, which is actually master-planned to eventually become a 1,400-bed facility and a multi-phased justice complex to house district courts, justice-related administrative offices and the county’s sheriff’s office.
The Bell County facility was built at a cost of $38 million under the direction of Dallas-based architectural firm, Wiginton, Hooker, Jeffry PC. That firm has not been retained, but will be making a presentation to Comal County officials within the next week.
“I asked the sheriff up there, who’s a friend of mine, if he’d hire them again,” Holder said.
Bell County Sheriff Dan Smith said yes, he would, Holder said.
“That’s high praise from a 26-year sheriff,” he said.
The county hasn’t settled on a firm for any project, he said.
“We’re looking for ideas ... It’s a very expensive process, and we want to do it right ... We’re hoping to build something to last at least 20 years. We’re doing our homework .. I’m a taxpayer too. My tax dollars have to be put in the kitty too, and I want the most bang for my buck,” he said.
“What we’re interested in is to make sure the right people are on board to do it right the first time,” said Holder, adding that, in the 1998-2000 expansion at the Comal County Jail, the county switched architectural firms in the middle of the project.
“We went through some tough times with that,” he said.
A petition put a stop to a larger proposed courts-plus-jail Comal County Justice Center. The jail Holder describes also would likely house Comal County Sheriff’s Office, which includes 272 employees, counting a 90-member jail staff. 晦