State report outlines deficiencies in Wood County jail

Posted

Wood County Judge Lucy Hebron and Sheriff Tom Castloo have received an analysis from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to use as a guiding tool to plan a new facility.

Because of the growing population of Wood County, and the costly repairs the outdated facility is requiring, a new facility may be a viable and a more cost-efficient solution, proposes Castloo.

Hebron says that it is premature for her to speculate on what the best option may be.

“I anticipate that we will need to study, in-depth, the past expenditures associated with repairs to the jail, out-of-county inmate housing costs, and other costs associated with maintaining a jail which may not be adequately serving our needs and compare those numbers to the costs of remodeling what we have or building new. All of this research and study will need to be done with citizen input so that we know what concerns the public have and what their preferences are on the financial side, because it is their taxpayer monies that fund county operations. All of the affected departments, offices and the commissioners court will use the report to come up with recommendations as to where we need to go.”

According to Wood County auditor records, from 2013-2019, facility repairs have cost the county $379,916 and more repairs are needed. The jail was built at a low level close to the water table causing drainage problems, the original cast-iron pipes have rusted and collapsed in several places, and the HVAC is malfunctioning.

Wood County commissioners have appropriated money for a consulting group to conduct a feasibility study on facility alternatives. Precinct Four Commissioner Russell Acker said plumbing would be the first concern, and his choice to expand or build would hinge on that.

“We’ve replaced a good bit over the years, but what is underneath that we can’t see?”Acker said.

In 2019, Wood County also spent $116,760 housing inmates in other county jails, and Sheriff Castloo predicts having to spend another $200,000 in 2020.

Wood County jail was built in 1988 and an addition was completed in 2001 bringing total capacity to 157 beds. There are 35 single cells, 20 separation cells, 12 multiple occupancy cells with a capacity of 90 and one dormitory with housing capacity of 12. Of the 157 beds, 29 are designated for female use. The intake area contains two holding cells, one detoxification cell and one violent cell.

Wood County averages 34 females per day with an overall average daily population of 134 inmates. Cells specifically designated for medical, violent, drunk and mental issues must remain available for those needs and can not be used as general inmate cells.

Wood County population grew 14 percent in ten years and had an incarceration rate per 1,000 people in the county of 2.98 in 2019, which is significantly higher than the average state rate of 2.12.

The analysis recommends constructing a facility consisting of no less than 192 beds, with the capability to expand as needed in the future. Due to several factors such as the number of outstanding warrants, the design professional should also consider past and predicted female incarceration rates of typically 20% and variations in inmate classification.

The analysis further recommends Wood County utilize work release programs, substance abuse treatment facilities or alternative incarceration programs as a way to reduce the number of inmates. 

District Judge Jeff Fletcher says he is trying to implement alternative programs and often offers offenders with a history of drugs a chance of rehabilitation. He has released several offenders on personal recognizance bonds as an alternative also.

To keep jail population down, Fletcher says he tries to set cases by who’s been in jail the longest, but if he only does jail cases, those who have bonded out will never go to trial. He says it’s a delicate balance to maintain.

Comments