County jail has room to grow, but is more space needed?

The Collin County Detention Center opened in 1994 and has grown from 536 to 1,298 beds.

The Collin County Detention Center opened in 1994 and has grown from 536 to 1,298 beds.

When Collin County outgrew its jail facility in the early 1990s and began looking for a new location, officials knew the county needed a jail that would not only provide for current needs but also for the future as well.

The county succeeded. Twenty-two years later, there is still room for the Collin County Detention Facility to grow.

“Early in the ’90s, we were out of space at the old jail in downtown McKinney,” Collin County Sheriff Terry Box said. “With the rapid amount of growth coming to Collin County, we were foreseeing building something that would handle our immediate needs but also would be easy and hopefully cheaper to be added onto for over a 25 to 50-year period.”

Rising construction costs hit McKinney

The county purchased a 292-acre tract that now houses the jail, sheriff’s office, courthouse, administration building, animal services and county services.

The Collin County Detention Facility opened in 1994 with 536 beds and a plan to add on to it as needed, Box said. The facility—attached to the Collin County Sheriff’s Office by a breezeway—was designed with one building for jail services and a series of other buildings called clusters. Each cluster is made up of four pods, where inmates are housed.

The jail facility opened with two clusters, and as the jail population grew, two clusters were added along with a new minimum-security facility.

“When we first opened the building, every five years we were adding on another cluster of 288 beds. That stopped several years ago,” Box said.

The latest cluster—the fourth—opened in 2007, and despite Collin County’s significant growth in the past decade, Box said he does not think the jail will need to add another cluster for at least another four to five years.

Trending against the population

The highest the jail population has been was 1,013 inmates in 2011. For the first six months of 2016, the jail population averaged 897 inmates.

Jail Administrator Charles Adams said an agreement with the Collin County District Attorney’s office and the  court system put more priority on jail cases, which helped bring down the inmate population to a more manageable count after 2011.

While the population of Collin County increased about 17 percent from 2010-15, the average yearly jail population has decreased by almost 4 percent during the same time frame, according to sheriff’s office records.

Neither Box nor Adams said they can pinpoint the reason for the growth discrepancy between the county and the jail populations, but both said their best guess is because of demographics.

Rising construction costs hit McKinney“Our [jail] admissions are down, but the county continues to grow,” Adams said. “I think a lot of that could have to do with the robust economy we have here in Collin County right now. The county itself is a fairly wealthy county when you look at the demographics, so I think that contributes to it.”

Box said although there is plenty of crime in Collin County, the jail has worked to put in processes in the DA’s office and court system to be able to monitor cases and ensure inmates are moving through the system and not sitting in jail.

The city of McKinney contracts with the county for its jail services, something McKinney Police Chief Greg Conley said is not uncommon in Texas. He said Dallas and Houston have similar arrangements.

“We are fortunate in being the county seat with the county jail located here,” Conley said. “It is a convenient option for us. It is cheaper for us to pay the county to house our prisoners than for us to build a jail facility and staff it. The high cost of building and maintaining the facility, staffing and inmate care is best handled by our contract with the county. The city also reduces its potential liability from jail operations.”

Conley said the city of McKinney budgets $120,000 per year to cover the cost of housing arrestees.

“Once a person has been arrested our concern is that they are housed safely with proper care and the county jail provides quality service in a cost-effective and efficient manner,” he said.

Regardless of future growth, the Collin County Detention Facility is in a position to expand, Box said. Two more housing clusters can be added to the existing complex, and the minimum-security facility can be doubled in size.. Long-term plans include another housing complex east of the current facility.

Direct supervision

The facility is operated as a direct-supervision facility, which means that rather than having inmates locked up behind bars, inmates are free to roam their pods during the day as long as they follow jail rules. Inmates are constantly supervised by deputies.

Inmates are first placed into a classification pod where they learn jail rules. They are then transferred to a general population pod already understanding, and are already aware of what is expected of them.

Rising construction costs hit McKinney Collin County Detention Facility inmates are housed in jail pods.[/caption]

“What ends up happening is that by having those rules and having those officers in the pod who are constantly monitoring those rules and making sure those inmates understand our expectations, then the inmates begin to feel safer,” Adams said. “When a person feels safer, they aren’t going to act out as much.”

The jail was the first in Texas to adopt the direct-supervision jail style—a style Collin County adopted after officials toured another such facility in Reno, Nevada, before beginning construction.

The jail now serves as an example for counties throughout the U.S. wanting to build direct-supervision jails, Box said.

Marthe Rennels contributed to this article.