Officials consider county jail expansion

Montgomery County officials seek ways to expand its county jail to address overcrowding.

Montgomery County officials seek ways to expand its county jail to address overcrowding.

Montgomery County Jail Montgomery County officials seek ways to expand its county jail to address overcrowding.Montgomery County Commissioners Court reassembled a dormant committee in September to examine ways to improve the county jail, which lacks adequate space for its ever-growing number of inmates.[/caption]

The Montgomery County Jail was built in 1987 to accommodate 600 inmates. Now, after repurposing existing spaces to add beds, it houses 1,122 inmates in that same 302,000-square-foot facility constructed nearly three decades ago.


“We could potentially do an expansion on the existing jail at a much [lower] cost than building a whole new jail [through] a combination of streamlining processes and looking at future [facility] growth—smart growth, not just building on,” County Judge Craig Doyal said.


More than 60 percent of the jail’s inmates are waiting on felony trials. Doyal said the committee is also looking for ways to move inmates through the court system more quickly—which would eliminate the immediate need for a new jail.


The committee is composed of 12 officials, including Doyal, Sheriff Tommy Gage and District Attorney Brett Ligon, and held its first meeting in September.




Montgomery County Jail Montgomery County officials seek ways to expand its county jail to address overcrowding.[/caption]

Growing pains


Last year, the committee hired Austin-based Broaddus Planning and Miami-based CGL Companies to present possible solutions to the jail’s overcrowding woes. The proposal included the construction of an entirely new facility, which came with a hefty $200 million price tag. County Judge Craig Doyal said there has to be another way to address the jail’s overcrowding problem.


Capt. David Moore, jail administrator, said he and his team have had to be creative with their given space.


“We take storage rooms or a multipurpose room and build it out with bunks,” Moore said. “We’ve doubled our size without building new buildings.”


Moore said improvements have also been made in medical care services. He said he converted storage space to build an alternative infirmary and began to employ Sam Houston State University graduate students to offer psychological counseling and increased doctor’s hours.


Moore said a new kitchen to accommodate 2,500 inmates was also completed this year.


The recent additions are some of the reasons why Doyal said he wants to see a jail expansion rather than build a newer, more expensive facility.


Even though the jail has a maximum capacity of 1,253 beds, not all of the beds can be occupied at once because of inmate classification. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards’ guidelines require jails to not exceed 90 percent of their capacity, which is 1,125 inmates for Montgomery County.


A citation was never issued to Montgomery County because jail officials were able to correct the issue in a timely manner, according to TCJS.


The jail meets the TCJS population standards by entering into mutual agreements with other Houston-area jails, such as those in Walker, Jefferson and San Jacinto counties, Chief Deputy Sheriff Randy McDaniel said. However, the jail was considered “at-risk” by the commission in 2014 because of its surging population, TCJS Assistant Director Shannon Herklotz said.


“We can send prisoners to other locations but that costs money,” McDaniel said. “It takes up our time, our efforts and our employment resources.”




Montgomery County Jail Montgomery County officials seek ways to expand its county jail to address overcrowding.[/caption]

Court processes


Some changes have been made to the court system to improve efficiency, including the addition of another full-time and a part-time felony court judge to increase the county total to four, Court Administration Director
Nate Jensen said.


In 2013, the county separated its courts into categories and allowed them to focus on a specific type of case to make it easier for trials to be scheduled in a timely manner, Jensen said.


“I think something that gets lost in the mix is judicial discretion on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “We look at it in terms of the whole system and why we aren’t moving people out, but a judge has to weigh all the different priorities.”


Jensen said identifying the reasons for trial scheduling changes and ensuring dates are moved only weeks ahead can help streamline processes.[polldaddy poll=9090338]


Another option is moving the physical location of the courts entirely, Doyal said.


“You have deputies tied up all day long just bringing prisoners to the court and, in many cases, to only have their hearing reset,” Doyal said. “That’s been a real challenge for law enforcement.”



Moving forward


The committee is expected to determine the jail’s needs; whether court procedural changes are needed; and whether an added floor to the jail or an extension of the bottom level would be beneficial, McDaniel said.


McDaniel said officials visited nearby jail facilities to look for ideas to implement in Montgomery County.


A jail expansion seems like the best next step, McDaniel said, adding he is confident the committee can find an inexpensive solution for expansion needs. He said one solution could be an expansion similar to one that took place at Fort Bend County Jail. However, Doyal said no timeline has been established for approval of possible solutions.


“They have a jail facility that is
multistory. I believe that is probably what it’s going to take for us in our jail expansion, but that’s going to be in the future,” McDaniel said.



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