Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Elected Officials Fear Voters - Reject Jail Proposal

They order bond issue election in November at cost plus

County Judge Cole Word was disappointed. When asked, he said

Three out of four commissioners rejected the notion of
issuing certificates of obligation to build a new jail.

They voted to order a general obligation bond issue election
on November 2.


Prevailing interest rates of three to four percent are
guaranteed to go up. Materials will increase in cost
exponentially as economic conditions deepen and money gets
too tight to mention.

Though he looked cool and collected in a starched white
shirt and freshly pressed slacks, he was clearly dejected.

Issuing certificates of obligation would have guaranteed
financing a new $9.75 million County Jail at the demand of a
state commission that can and will close down the lockup
because it fails to meet standards in many areas. Work
could have commenced in the fall at the latest.

The new delay will dictate not only greater costs, but
further delay in construction, quite possibly for as long as
a year. The increase in debt service and the cost of
materials has been conservatively estimated at anywhere from
$750,000 to $1.5 million.

It's nothing new. The jail problem not only does not go
away, it has persisted throughout his eight-year tenure as
County Judge.

The voters and elected officials of Bosque County have
persistently resisted any effort to to remedy the deplorable
situation. They say purchase of gravel and other road
building materials comes first, that it's a much higher
priority than the treatment of accused and convicted
criminal offenders to see to it that their constituents have
safe roads and bridges to travel back and forth to their
farms and ranches.

First, there is the problem of overcrowding. The Sheriff's
Department finds it necessary to ship prisoners to
neighboring counties at the cost of an average of $43 per
day at a cost of $1,720 per day if state regulators close
the jail down completely. If that condition persisted for
20 years, it would result in a public expense of $14,3
million - four million dollars more than it would cost to
build and finance over a 20-year period a 96-bed jail that
does comply with state standards.

Secondly, the roof leaks and when it does, it causes the
smoke, fire, and escape alarms to malfunction, a condition
that the Texas Commission on Jail Standards will not
tolerate. Inmates who riot just about always set fire to
paper, their mattresses, cardboard, just anything that will
burn so they will be sent to the recreation yard or the
central dining facility. There, they have an easy shot at
retaliating against despised prisoners through violence.

Then there is the flooding problem. The building is located
in a one hundred-year flood plain in the Bosque River
bottoms. When heavy rains begin to saturate the rocky
ground of downtown Meridian, the water flows through the
underground stony strata and thence to the river. The
Bosque is coming through, building or no building, and the
sewer lines begin to back up, commodes overflow and sinks
fill with filthy water. The risk of such dread diseases as
infectious hepatitis begins to rear its ugly head.

Here is another problem.

Inmates who want something or are angry about their
treatment are often known to plug up the sewer lines

Sheriff Anthony Malott tells horror stories about bringing a
visitor into the jail and being confronted by an inmate
trusty with a butcher knife in his hand as they stroll past
the tiny kitchen that feeds inmates two meals a day. It
doesn't look good, to say the least.

When he took over as sheriff, he had inmates wire brush and
clean up filthy steel commodes. Guess what happened. Some
of them came completely to pieces because they were patched
together with JB-Weld.

It's agreed. Everyone from the Commissioner on Jail
Standards at Austin to the high sheriff at Meridian thinks
the Bosque County Jail is a hell hole nightmare dungeon.

After all, it was built of tilt wall slab concrete in 1978
by two Hispanic laborers on probation and a contractor. At
the time, there was no Commission on Jail Standards, only
minimal administrative rules and none of the current health
and safety regulations that exist today.

When later the jail was modernized, the rules of the
commission were only a small part of what they are today.

It's nowhere near safe to be there. It's the kind of place
from which a man or woman needs to stay totally aloof.

And there's yet another problem. Since state standards
require female prisoners to be segregated from males by
sight and sound, they are all housed in neighboring lockups
at Hillsboro or Glen Rose.

This means the local sheriff's department has no hen house

It all adds up to one main problem.

Inmates are not supposed to run the jail. Their methods are
unsatisfactory, to say the least. Setting fires to
manipulate jailers to do something or the other is a total
no no when there is no means of escape.

Carbon monoxide poisoning caused by fire kills in a fraction
of a second.

Here is the rub of the green.

Inmates in custodial detention are to be treated as a
special population, their human rights protected, their
needs cared for - or else. The authorities with
constitutional obligations to run the jail lawfully will be
called to account as to why that mission was not fulfilled -
usually in federal court.

Federal courts are much more expensive than building jails
under unfunded mandates. Much more expensive.

When defied, federal district judges and their brethren on
appeals courts - appointed for life by the President of the
United States - have very expensive notions as to how to
handle recalcitrant local officials - elected or not.

"We're just one slip and one fall away from some inmate
owning a pretty good sized part of this county," Judge Word
said following the commissioners' rejection of a very
transparent public planning process involving a citizen
committee that worked with architect Jeff Heffelfinger of
Ft. Worth to design the proposed facility so soundly
rejected by men who are facing re-election.

"They keep coming back to their basic point," the judge
said. "They want the public to have the final say so in an
election. And, hey, I can't say I blame them."

And that problem with public perception of a solution to a
problem that won't go away is the one that won't go away any
time soon.

A member of the committee that studied the design criteria
and assisted with site selection on a high and dry parcel of
land in the local industrial park, Dr. Tom Bratcher,
recently told The Legendary that the job could have been
completed five years ago at a cost of about $3.5 million.
The County Republican Chairman-elect, he is the head of a
Baylor University doctoral program in the mathematical
science of statistical analysis.

The ultimate problem is this.

If the registered voters reject the general obligation bond
issue, then the county is still locked in to the problem of
providing a safe and healthy environment for the confinement
of prisoners under custodial detention while awaiting trial
or execution of sentence.

To propose a new scheme, the same criteria previously
rejected by voters may not be used. It's prohibited under
state law.

A new proposal must be either larger, or smaller in scope.

In Coryell County, the commissioners held out for voter
approval of a general obligation bond issue. When the
election failed, they were forced to ship prisoners to
other counties. They raised taxes to pay for that, but
now they cannot build a new jail becuase they are at the
taxing cap imposed by state law. They're stuck.

Said Dr. Bratcher, "We expected them to be good stewards
the peoples' money and I'll be damned but they ignored
peoples' wishes...They didn't want to take the responsi-

"I sacrificed my home life and my work on that committee.
It was a complete waste of time. It's my opinion they
have put us in an untenable position."

In six town hall meetings they committee staged at various
spots around the county, he recalled, straw polls showed
the voters preferred to have the commissioners' court issue
certificates of obligation. The only County Road Commissioner
who heeded the expressed wishes of the citizens' committee
the voters was Kent Harbison of Precinct 1, said Dr. Bratcher.

The floggings willl continue until morale improves.



  1. I'm being sentenced to Bosque county jail for a few months and reading this makes me wanna kill myself

  2. Don't do that, hoss. They send their overflow prisoners to Hill County Jail. It's not so bad. Death at one's own hands is a very permanent solution to a temporary problem. - The Legendary