Rockwall voters will soon have to take a hard look at the possibility of expanding the jail facility in Rockwall County.

Rockwall Sheriff Harold Eavenson made a preliminary presentation to local officials that gathered for last week’s meeting of the County’s Emergency Services Corporation.

“This is nothing more than an orientation process for ya’ll,” Eavenson predicated. “I realize that it is (the Sheriff’s Offices’) responsibility when the time comes to sell this project to the community. Because of the fact that we provide service to the entire county from a jail standpoint, I thought it was important for the people in the county and the cities to be aware of what our situation is.

“I had hoped that I would never have to do this while I was the Sheriff, but unfortunately I don’t think there is any way that we’re going to be able to get away from it. And when You see the numbers I think you will understand where I am coming from.”

Eavenson pointed out that Rockwall, being the smallest county in Texas, had only one jail facility to serve all the agencies in the county. He noted three major causes of overcrowding, noting that they were in no particular order; Significant population growth in Rockwall County, Departmental growth of law enforcement agencies in Rockwall County, Statewide population growth, and no new construction of TDCJ facilities.

“(Statewide growth is) a factor because we have a lot of transient population in our county just because of how fast-growing we are, and a lot of the people that end up in our jail are not Rockwall citizens,” Eavenson said.

“On March 20 of 2006, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards completed a facilities-needs analysis which indicated the Rockwall County Detention Center would need 47 more beds by 2007. I don’t have to tell ya’ll when it takes as long to plan and get things done as it does at that magnitude - if we started yesterday we wouldn’t have 47 morte beds built by the end of 2007.

“We thought for some time that we kind of had an ‘ace in the hole’ - that we could go to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and ask for a variance, which means we could ask for 16 to 20 beds,” Eavenson said. “We thought that that was a real possibility, in fact we basically thought that it was a slam dunk. Well, when they did an analysis on our jail we found out that the expansion that we opened in 2001 was built to minimum sqaure footage specifications. So that ‘ace in the hole’ quickly went out the window.”

The Sheriff’s Office has already taken major steps to reduce overcrowding in the county jail.

On July 16, 2006 the Rockwall County Jail discontinued housing federal inmates, as well as inmates for three other counties they had been serving.

With cooperation from judges and the local D.A., the county established formulary guidelines for resetting bonds with the local courts to reduce need for housing pre-bonded inmates.

In October of 2006 the county jail stopped accepting out-of-county class C warrant arrests.

Through the D.A.’s office, the sheriff is reviewing contracts for housing Rockwall County inmates in other counties. Expected costs run from $44-$60 per day.

The jail was built in 1987 with a section of 48 beds, which now houses female prisoners. An expansion begun in 1996 added an additional 48 beds. The most recent expansion, in 2001, added yet another 144 beds.

The jail now has a total of 241 beds; 172 male, 48 female, 21 seperation cells, and 2 violent cells.

On Oct. 9 the jail had a population of 215. Of these, 148 were felony offenders, 43 misdemeaner (A or B), 9 parole violations, nine Class C misdemeaners, and six out-of-county warrants.

Eavenson reported that from 2003 to 2005, the jail saw a 12.3 percent increase in population. From 2005 to 2006 alone, the jail population rose by 39.35 percent. That reflected a 51 percent increase in inmate population over four years.

Eavenson estimates that with another 39.35% increase, the number of prisoners would surpass jail population limits by 85 inmates. He also estimates that the cost for housing such a number would run from $1.3 million to $1.7 million per year to house excess inmates in another county.

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