Nolan County Sheriff David Warren addressed the Sweetwater City Commission during their regular meeting at City Hall on Tuesday morning, October 9, 2012.
The presentation was in regards to the upcoming county bond election, in which voters will cast ballots on the courthouse remediation and new jail facilities, and its implications for the city. A fact sheet was presented to commissioners, in which Warren prefaced that only facts were on the sheet.
The Nolan County jail is the only jail facility in the area, but for the past twelve and a half years, excess prisoners have been sent out of the county to other places such as Runnels, Taylor and Garza counties. As a result, $1.25 million has been spent on transporting excess prisoners.
Warren discussed two variances that could lead to the decertification of the jail. He noted that the Texas Jail Commission has visited the city and facilities, and recollected the public meetings that were held in November-December 2011. When a representative from the Jail Commission was asked by a citizen in the meeting as to how close the county jail was to closing, his answer was "real close".
Currently, an interlocal agreement between the city and county allows for Class C misdemeanor prisoners to be detained in the county jail, whereas the local fire department fight fires in rural areas.
However, in the instance that the jail were to close, Warren said that "monumental changes" would take place which would affect mental health detainees and juvenile prisoners. Both emergency detainees and juvenile prisoners would then to be transported by municipal authorities and not county staff.
In addition, out of 785 prisoners, about one-third are charged with Class C misdemeanors. These prisoners would also see serious effects, with the possibility of them not even being taken into custody.
Overall, these changes would affect staffing, manpower and budgets for both the city and county, Warren emphasized. Budget ramifications for the entities would be "substantial".
The sheriff said that, while it would be "impossible to predict a timeline" for a jail closure, the Jail Commission has been very clear. He pointed out an area county that recently underwent the decertification of their county jail, but because of their city jail, they were better prepared than Sweetwater and Nolan County would be.
Sheriff Warren entertained questions from the commission, with Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerod Peek telling the sheriff that he asked the jail commission about a possible closure at the public meeting. The answer he was given was that a closure could potentially be "overnight".
Peek also posed the question to Warren of what would be done in the instance that no jail could house transport prisoners, such as intoxicated offenders, should the jail be closed. Warren stated that in contrast to other cities, Sweetwater and Nolan County do not have halfway houses or detox centers; thus, the prisoners would essentially have to be released.
The vote for the Nolan County bond election will be held as part of the general election on Tuesday, November 6.