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Alternative Incarceration Program: Cleaning Up the County

Jan 10th, 2010 | Category: Kleberg County

By Gloria Bigger-Cantu,  Kingsville Record

An Alternative Incarceration Program that provides labor and other needed services by inmates and people on probation, is being described as a “win, win, win” by Kleberg County officials. The county implemented the program about three weeks ago.

“This is a “win, win, win” proposition for everyone – the county, the taxpayers and the inmates,” said Pct. 2 Kleberg County Commissioner Chuck Schultz. Three inmates were busy working on repairs on the Precinct 2 building last week.

“They made bad choices in life, and this program gives them an opportunity to repay society; it gives them their integrity and builds their morale,” Schultz said Thursday afternoon, as three inmates were repairing boards outside his office. The inmate workers will also prime and paint the entire building. The Precinct 2 building, located at 620 North Third St., also houses elected officials Justice of the Peace Carmen Cortez and Constable Joseph Rosales.

The Alternative Incarceration Program is supervised by the Kleberg County Sheriff’s Office and is patterned after a similar one in Nueces County referred to as the Spurs program.

Kleberg County Sheriff Ed Mata Jr. said the Alternative Incarceration Program was started in Tarrant County several years ago. The purpose of the program is to help alleviate jail overcrowding conditions and offer low risk inmates a way to reduce jail time and give back to the community. The work projects are on a seven-day basis, and all inmate participation is on a volunteer basis. Certain criteria by the inmates must be met.

“Some people in our facility have lost their jobs and could not bond out,” Mata said. “Many of them have skills in gardening, carpentry and electrical work.”

“This alleviates the cost of the jail population and rehabilitates people,” Mata said.

Cost of maintaining an inmate is about $50 a day. Mata said he has wanted to begin a program like this one for a long time but has not been able to do so.

 

“Judge Angelica Hernandez and the commissioners court have been very supportive of this work program,” Mata said. Hernandez took office as the 105th District Court judge in January, ousting longtime incumbent Manuel Banales.

Kleberg County Judge Juan Escobar placed the work program on the agenda during the March 28 regular meeting of the Kleberg County commissioners court. The commissioners court unanimously authorized the sheriff’s office “to create and initiate an alternative incarceration program to help relieve jail overcrowding and to reduce the cost of inmate housing (Spurs program).”

Escobar also echoed the message shared by Schultz and Mata that the program will help save the county money and help rehabilitate individuals who have made mistakes. He also said that Kleberg County was one of the few counties that had not already implemented this type of initiative.

“This program will save the taxpayers money, and considering that we have a lot of budget constraints because some of the certificates of obligations money was spent on the Exxon Building, we have had to find alternative ways to have the ability to work on projects,” Escobar said.

The county judge also said the work will give inmates a sense of responsibility and help build their self-esteem.

Renovation of the courthouse has already begun using inmate labor. The 105th District Court office was also painted and spruced up, along with offices housed in the old sheriff’s department located in the courthouse basement. Five inmates also completely refurbished offices that will be utilized by public defenders for capital cases. The inmates cleaned the premises, built baseboards, painted, changed ceiling tiles and helped assemble office furniture in 10 days.

“They worked very hard and did a great job,” said Anna Jimenez, one of the public defender attorneys housed in the facility. “I am very impressed in the amount of time it took them to get this into a workable space.”

“The sheriff and Judge Escobar did a fantastic thing with that program,” said Jiminez, who is a former Nueces County District Attorney.

Jimenez said one of the inmates who worked on the project was released.

“He came by here and showed his wife the work he had done,” she said.

Escobar estimated there have already been manpower savings of over $20,000 on county projects.

“We will be saving from 70 to 80 percent in labor,” Escobar said.

Other work projects will include more maintenance work at the courthouse, trimming trees at the entrance of the airport, cleaning up the golf course and doing maintenance work at the Kleberg County Park.

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Here is a 2010 story in the Kingsville Record, also by Gloria Bigger-Cantu
An increase in the jail population continues to cost Kleberg County plenty of money to house them and ultimately the taxpayer is paying for their upkeep, according to officials. Some inmates have been jailed almost 300 days. Kleberg County Judge Pete De La Garza cites the Sheriff’s Department for being lax and not taking care of the jail situation. However, officials at the Sheriff’s Department believe that all entities involved in incarceration procedures need to be held accountable also.
Kleberg County pays $40 a day to house a prisoner. Inmates receive three meals a day plus medical and dental care. Kleberg County has a 124-bed capacity. The jail roster dated July 5, 2007 revealed 141 inmates. Of these inmates, 30 were transferred to the Brooks and Willacy counties with Kleberg County paying $40 a day to house them. Eight of the 30 prisoners transferred were females.
As of yesterday, Willie Vera, Kleberg County Sheriff Department Chief Deputy, reported 39 inmates were housed in other counties. Fifteen of these inmates are females. This is a cost of $1560 a day.
“The number of female inmates has increased for this size of a county,” Vera said.
De La Garza cited the Sheriff’s Department for not keeping accountability of the inmates and finding solutions for the overpopulation.
“Our facility is a detention center and as long as law enforcement officials bring inmates we have to accept everybody and take them,” Vera explained.
Kleberg County Jail was cited will 11 deficiencies by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. Two TCJC inspectors toured the jail Feb. 26, 27 and interviewed the staff and inmates as they were inspecting the facility. The deficiencies ranged from unsanitary conditions to overcrowded situations.
“We have corrected all the deficiencies except for the overcrowded problem,” Vera said.
“This overcrowded issue has to be addressed because of the need to meet jail standards.”
Vera said the status of inmates depends on the courts and what they want to do with them.
De La Garza said the previous administration did not have these jail problems.
“Sheriff Tony Gonzalez knew who was in jail and also the jailer Gilbert Esquivel would contact the DA’s office after the inmates had been there 45 days,” De La Garza said.
The county judge said possible solutions could be giving credit for time served and PR bonds. Credit for time served can be given to people with misdemeanor charges.
Vera explained many of the inmates were waiting for beds in other Texas facilities. The District Clerk’s office prepared the documents to transfer them.
Of the 141 inmates listed on the July 5 roster 26 of them were convicted and have to serve time in the county jail or they are waiting to be transferred to the incarceration facilities. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards information revealed that 29 of Kleberg County inmates were being held on pre-trial orders.
“It is unfortunate and we need not finger point because we need to work together to assist with the overcrowding issues,” Vera said. Everyone involved in the incarceration of prisoners needed to participate in solving these issues ranging from the arresting officers to the district attorneys, judges and the court system.
He said the Sheriff’s Department had been trying to address these issues. Last year he met with district attorneys and all entities involved in housing inmates. This spring Vera, Billy Woodruff, jailer and Armando Salazar, Kleberg County Maintenance supervisor traveled to Bastrop to examine temporary jail facilities.
“This would buy us three years time but nothing became of this,” Vera said.
“I would prefer permanent housing rather than temporary because this is a band aid approach,” De La Garza replied.
Vera also suggested PR bonds and ankle monitors to reduce the inmate population. However, he emphasized that it was up to the courts to decide what they wanted to do with the prisoners.
The July 5 jail roster revealed 21 inmates from Kingsville, five from different states, three from Mexico and one from El Salvador. The rest of the inmates were from Texas.
The inmates’ crimes range from one woman charged with credit card fraud and one man with a murder indictment. He has been in jail for 188 days.
Some inmates have been incarcerated for one to over a year. One man convicted of aggravated robbery has been in jail for 406 days. He is waiting a court date after he assaulted a prosecuting attorney. The man accepted a plea bargain of 35 years for the burglaries. A Kingsville man has been held in jail for 288 days that include aggravated assault on a child. A 42-year-old man convicted on drug charges has been in jail for 233days. Another man convicted of burglary of a building has been in jail for 146 days.
Kleberg County has a budget of about $11 million. The Sheriff’s Department is allocated $3 million of this budget. The Kleberg County Commissioners’ Court will have a budget workshop at 9 a.m. Friday.

 

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