Nueces County Sheriff Jim Kaelin says inmate overcrowding at the jail is nearing a crisis point.
The problem is more than just a lack of beds. The Sheriff says the classification system that determines who gets those beds is also a contributing factor.
Earlier this month, the jail reached 97 percent capacity. Sheriff Kaelin says overcrowding has been a consistent problem, and it is one the county cannot ignore.
He says to lock down a solution, the county needs to financially commit towards expanding the jail.
“When the city police department brings an inmate over here, they expect us to be able to receive and take that inmate,” Sheriff Kaelin said.
But it’s not always simple. Sheriff Kaelin says the Nueces County Jail is consistently overcrowded. “We have 1068 beds. But it gets very complicated when you get involved in jail standards,” Sheriff Kaelin said.
That is because beds are assigned based on how an inmate is classified. That classification determines where they are housed this is for their protection.
“We run out of places to put people, because one classification area may be full,” Sheriff Kaelin said.
Just like the jail population, Sheriff Kaelin says this problem has been building up over decades.
“This county really hasn’t added any beds since 1991. In those more than 20 years, the community has grown,” he said.
However, he says the jail has not kept up. “You have to add more beds to keep up with your growth,” he said.
The Sheriff could address overcrowding by refusing non-violent misdemeanor or felony offenders, but that is an option he is not interested in.
“I think our community would be very concerned if we were letting non-violent felons out at my discretion,” he said.
Another option is to send inmates to neighboring county jails.
“That absolutely has to be the last resort. Because it’s terribly expensive,” Sheriff Kaelin said.
The Sheriff says those counties would charge $50 dollars a day per inmate. He believes that money would be better spent within our own county.
“We have to add more beds, then we wouldn’t be in bad shape now. It’s just a matter of saying we must start. Well, nobody started,” he said.
County Commissioners have two budget workshops next week, when they will discuss the jail overcrowding issue.
The Sheriff says it took him seven years to convince County Commissioners to approve an expansion project at the McKenzie jail annex.
It finally got underway last year and will add 144 beds. However, the sheriff says it is now over budget because of some unexpected problems with the building’s fire suppression system.
That expansion project won’t be done for another year.