Inside the Hays County Bond: Proposition 1, ‘Jail Bond’

By, Terra Rivers, managing editor

On August 16, 2016, the Hays County Commissioner’s court approved a $237.8 million bond to be added to the November ballot.

Officials will spend $106.4 million in a public safety facility, which will include a $62.4 million expansion to the Hays County Jail and a $44.4 million 911 communications building.

But the bond has been met with opposition from the community. The main concern appears to be the amount of debt that the bond will add to the county’s already hefty numbers. The San Marcos Corridor News has dug into why officials propose adding to the county debt.

Hays County Jail was built in 1989. As of today, it is the only facility in all of Hays County for holding individuals who are being charged for breaking a state or county law. The prison everyone passes while heading north toward Austin on IH-35, is a state prison facility but is privately run and accepts only individuals from Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Our county jail has 362 beds, but 14 of those beds are isolation cells to keep certain inmates away from others, and four are infirmary beds. The Texas Commission of Jail Standards also requires a 10 percent buffer in all jails, meaning 34 general population beds have to remain open for the jail to be in compliance with the standard. Those regulations leave 310 beds for use.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act is a federal law that requires 17-year-olds to be separated from inmates 18 years and older. Three PREA inmates can take up ten beds in the jail at a time.

“We like to have 300 or lower,” Sheriff Gary Cutler said. “We had three PREA inmates, but they were in an area with ten beds. And I have to leave those other beds vacant because I’ve got those 17-year-olds over there.”

As of last Thursday, the county had one 17-year-old in custody who was taking up three extra beds because of PREA laws.

Sheriff Cutler said the laws weren’t in place when the jail was built. The facility wasn’t built to accommodate female inmates, who also have to be kept separate, Cutler said.

According to the state, Hays County Jail is allowed to keep 310 inmates at a time. The headcount Sheriff Cutler and officials received last Thursday morning was 438 inmates. Thirty-seven of those inmates are being held on misdemeanor charges while the remaining four hundred and one are being held on felony charges.

“Some of these (misdemeanors), not all of them, may be arrested on a misdemeanor and have pending mental issues,” Cutler said. “It could be an inmate who spent five years in a penitentiary and got out, and he decided to do some misdemeanor offense.”

Captain Mike Davenport said the jail currently is not holding anyone for misdemeanor drug possession charges.

“Every agency that makes an arrest; they book here,” Cutler said. “The only way (federal violators) would come to Hays County Jail was if there was a state charge on top of it. These people here are pre-trial detainees for the most part.”

Detainees can spend up to three years at the Hays County Jail while their case is processed through the court. If sentenced, the state has 45 days to come and get the inmate and transfer them to a state penitentiary.

These individuals can be outsourced to Walker County’s jail to await transfer to the prison. Counties can charge anywhere from $35 to $50 a day to house an inmate. Currently, Hays County is outsourcing 179 inmates in 5 different counties. Only one of them will take female inmates.

In Hays County’s last budget year, the county spent $1,899,650  in housing inmates in other county facilities. While outsourced, the Hays County Sheriff’s department is still responsible for transportation to and from court appearances. If an inmate causes any damages to the hosting county’s facilities, Hays County is responsible for those repairs or replacements.

“I’ve got a great working relationship with these other county sheriffs,” Cutler said. “And they work well together. The thing is…they don’t have to continue to take them. I can get a call right now from Burnet County, who has 76 inmates, and he could say, ‘Sheriff, we really decided now we really don’t want your inmates anymore. Would you come up here and get them in the next few days?’”

High-risk inmates, those in for crimes like capital murder, sick inmates, and inmates with disciplinary problems are not hosted outside the county. The Sheriff said inmate’s native to Hays County will sometimes try and cause themselves injuries to avoid being shipped to another jail.

But the 128 inmates over the allowed 310 aren’t the only issue the jail is experiencing. Five years ago, when Sheriff Cutler arrived, the jail was suffering from structure issues. The facility has experienced major leaks, door mechanism problems and control panels where buttons are completely worn through.

The Law Enforcement Communications building is 40 years old and served as the original jail until ’89. The building is entirely built from cinder blocks. In 1997, the communications department was transferred over into the building. Since then, officials have converted storage rooms into offices. The evidence locker has run out of space for housing new evidence. The 911-call center, which originally was set up for nine operators, now has twenty-seven stations crammed together.

According to the Texas Comptrollers website, from 2005 – 2014 the Hays County population has grown 47.7 percent, and the State of Texas during the same period only grew 18.3 percent.

That total population number for Hays County is listed as 185,025, but according to the US Census Bureau, as of July 2015, the Hays County population was an estimated 194,739 residents. The county has had a tremendous amount of growth in just the last 15 months since the US Census Bureau’s number in 2015.

Statistically, the more the population of a city or county grows; the higher the crime rate will become.

Sheriff Cutler said the county has approved a $1,535,567 budget for housing inmates in other counties for this year; however, the budget could be brought to court and raised if the costs of outsourcing inmates go above that.

The county doesn’t intend to purchase new land with the election of Proposition 1. The “Jail Bond” will be spent on expanding and renovating current public safety facilities to accommodate the county’s growing needs.

Images provided by the Hays County Sheriff’s department documenting the condition of and repairs made to the Hays County Jail in the last five years.

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One Comment

  1. This is the most one-sided review of the bonds issue I have ever seen.

    Not only are you not looking further than the County’s own self-benefiting assertions about the needs for these roads, and the jail expansion, but you have not reported AT ALL on why so many citizens are voting against both bonds.

    This site should be doing more than just acting like a mouthpiece for the Sheriff and Will Conley.

    Our County is in major debt already, our homes are appraising more each year, which means OUR TAXES ARE GOING UP, despite the claims of the County Commissioners, who are playing games with numbers, while WE PAY HIGHER TAXES.

    Do the citizens of this county a favor, and report on all the many reasons We The People are revolting against putting more construction projects on our County credit card. Hays County added $6 BILLION dollars in property to our coffers in the last year or so, where is all that money?

    If we really need it, pay cash for it, like prudent people do.

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