SPECIAL REPORT: Ector County still faces overcrowding jail population

SPECIAL REPORT: Ector County still faces overcrowding jail population

MIDLAND-ODESSA, TX (KWES) - As Ector County's population grows so has the crime.

"In the summer months, we see the population grow in the jail. It's hotter, warmer, people are out more," said Ector County Sheriff, Mike Griffis.

An overcrowding problem over the years has led to deputies transporting around 170 inmates to other counties, but this problem isn't anything new.

"We have a lieutenant and a master sergeant, about all they do all day every day is arrange transportation of inmates," said Griffis. "They can't even concentrate on their regular duties because they are constantly dealing with the transportation issue."

Counties like Lynn, Scurry, Reagan, Parker, Hudspeth and McLennan are all getting paid by Ector County to house their inmates.

Ector County is paying thousands of dollars every day. Counties charge from $30 to $50 dollars per inmate, equating almost 2 to 3 million dollars a year. But the talk of the jail in need of an expansion is back on the table.

"It's been 24 years since the jail was built, we've gone slow enough," said Ector County Judge Ron Eckert. "It's time to quit talking, it's time for action."

County commissioners approved a $25 million dollar limit on the jail's expansion which would include three pods and 480 beds.

"At some point, we are going to have to expand the jail, it takes a pretty good leap, it adds three different pods," said County Commissioner Precinct 2 Greg Simmons. "You could say we could've got by with two for right now and save some cost."

Ector County currently houses 607 inmates and their capacity is 667. In Midland County, they don't have an overcrowding problem anymore. They house 500 inmates but how do they keep that number down? Sheriff Gary Painter said it's all about teamwork.

"You must have the district attorney, he's got to be involved. The county attorney, if they're prosecuting a misdemeanor, he's got to be involved. All the judges have to be involved," said Painter. "If you're not working together, you're costing your taxpayer's money."

Midland County had a severe overcrowding problem in the 90's. Back then, they ran a little over 500 inmates a day and only housed 200 inmates in their facility. Because the state penitentiary was backed up, Midland County had to send inmates to nine different counties and transportation cost $1 million just for one year.

"We had them as far north as Muleshoe, close to Abilene, Big Spring, Big Lake, we had them all over the place," said Painter.

When Midland County had a jail expansion back in 2008, a jail consulting company was hired to do surveys. Back when the jail housed 202 beds, the consulting company said it was time to expand. By 2012, the expansion was complete with 500 beds. Within the past few years, the jail population has been sitting in the 400's. But in addition to the expansion, the county was also using their own pretrial bonding company.

"I'll venture to say that the pretrial bonding has probably about 800-1,000 people out on a pretrial bond right now," said Painter. "That is people that would be sitting in the county jail costing the taxpayer's money and I would be shipping them out if it weren't for pretrial."

The program looks at a list of offenders who were arrested 24 hours earlier and finds the ones with nonviolent crimes. However, they'd have to be eligible for their service in order to bond out at only 3%.

Ector County also has a similar program that can bond out those charged with a nonviolent crime, it's also at 3%.

"It does help if they can pay 3% of the bond," said Griffis. "They'll put them on a monitor and get them out of here. We have looked at ways of expanding that."

The program has been in place for a few years and so far, both pretrial programs have helped alleviate the overcrowding in both Ector and Midland County.

"That is one of the greatest things I can say about the Midland County Criminal Justice System," said Painter. "Everybody puts in their two cents, everybody puts in their sweat. We all get results out of it. It may not always be what we're looking for, but everybody works hard in helping me keep the jail population down and that's very important."

Ector County's jail expansion would house 1,147 inmates. If the debt is approved, the county could see groundbreaking sometime next year. As for completion, it still has a while to go.

"It will be safer, it'll cut down on liability, it'll make the court run smoother because all the inmates will be here, it'll cut transportation costs, it'll be a benefit to us," said Griffis. "Even if they do vote to issue the debt, we're still looking at two years before we're ready to open the doors."

On Monday, Ector County Commissioners approved for a credit rating on the $25 million dollar bond issue. After the rating agency determines the rating, commissioners may vote on the debt May 22.

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