Hays County must construct new jail facility

Illustration by: 

The Hays County Law Enforcement Center is bursting at the seams, and it is time local officials took action to ease the growing pains and build a much-needed new facility.

According to an April 2 University Star article, the Hays County Law Enforcement Center houses offenders from cities, unincorporated areas of the county and those detained by the University Police Department as it is the only jail in the county.

The jail has been exceeding the recommended number of occupied beds and nearing maximum capacity for months despite changes being made to the law system in order to make more room.

That same article projects that in just six years the county will need space for 600 inmates. The statistic depicts the desperate need for more space and an updated facility would benefit those who work there and are detained there. The county needs to get the latest equipment to enable the system to be efficient and run smoothly.

It would cost the county more to transfer inmates in the case of running out of beds than it does to house them and if the facility were larger, the county could save money in the long run.

Since the population in the county is steadily rising rather than the crime rate, the county should have had the foresight to be planning the facility for some time now. A new jail is common sense for a community that is home to the census bureau’s fastest growing city in the nation. Since the county does not have an overwhelmingly increasing crime rate, it is surprising that the jail is in such a state.

Commissioners have made a good effort to decrease the number of inmates and control the population and should continue these efforts while planning and construction on the new facility occurs.

To decrease the number of inmates in the meantime, the county should consider decriminalizing public intoxication that would be similar to the “cite and release” initiatives for misdemeanor possession. This would free up space and be cost effective for the county.

Another avenue to decrease the inmate population would be deciding which offenders could be sent home as they await their trial when they cannot afford bail. California officials have been discussing this as an alternative to their over crowded jails and it could be a system that is beneficial to Hays County as well. By utilizing this method, the county would not be receiving the funds for the bail and it would not be spending funds on those inmates either.

Some arrests, such as hazing and lesser offenses, should not require offenders to stay over night. They are taking up space that could be used for those who committed more serious crimes.

The county should make building a new facility a high priority and in the mean time officials should enact plans to create more space in the jail available to them.