Sending inmates out of town crippling Trinity Co. budget

Trinity County Auditor Sheila Johnson.
Trinity County Auditor Sheila Johnson.
County Judge Mark Evans.
County Judge Mark Evans.
Chief Deputy Billy Patton
Chief Deputy Billy Patton

GROVETON, TX (KTRE) - By Morgan Thomas - email

GROVETON, TX (KTRE) - Trinity County faces a mounting money problem as they're taking on the cost of housing criminals across the state, instead of in their own jail.

Trinity County commissioners are in a bind. Only half-way through the budget year, they're already way over-budget on housing inmates.

"We don't have a fund balance to fall back on. We don't have a reserve to fall back on," said Trinity County Auditor Sheila Johnson.

A sudden shift in Texas jail policy is restricting the number of offenders the county can house in its jail.

"In the past you can bring inmates in for court and it wouldn't count against you if they were out the next day," said County Judge Mark Evans.

Now every inmate sitting in the jail counts, regardless of their length of stay.

"Even if they were being magistrated or awaiting transportation to a holding facility," said Evans.

Before this spring, up to six long-term inmates were detained there. Now only one. Jailers are having to hold space for future arrests.

Since the state moved toward a stricter stance on jail occupancy, the biggest challenge facing Trinity County is dealing with the unpredictable nature of law enforcement arrests.

"Put it in simplest terms I think country people would understand. If deputies go out and work a bar room fight and have to arrest five or six people and we had two when we started and we're over the max," said Evans.

Those extra inmates are being housed in other parts of the state on the county's dime. Johnson says that bill keeps piling up.

"It's going to take us over budget in just that one line item by about $75,000," said Johnson.

That's why building a new jail isn't out of the question. Chief Deputy Billy Patton shares in the frustration.

"I can understand people not wanting their taxes raised, but at the same time you've got a law enforcement agency that's handicapped," said Patton.

Judge Evans says a new jail would have to be approved by the voters who would pay for it.

In the meantime, Trinity County is negotiating cheaper contracts with other jails to help get the budget crisis under control.

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