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Carson County Jail Costs County

Feb 4th, 2010 | Category: Carson County, Women and Jails

By Janelle Stecklein in amarillo.com     janelle.stecklein@amarillo.com

When a brawl erupted recently between two women incarcerated in Carson County’s only jail cell for females, jailers faced a dilemma.

There was no question the women had to be separated, but there wasn’t anywhere to isolate them in the 24-bed facility in the courthouse in the city of Panhandle. One had to be sent to the Childress County jail.

As rural jails in the Texas Panhandle – many of them were built in the 1950s – age, county officials are facing problems jail designers half a century ago never dreamed of. Among those challenges are overcrowding, safety concerns and a state jail standards commission that didn’t exist when the jails were built.

“I’m proud of our old jail,” Carson County Sheriff Tam Terry said. “We’ve worked hard to keep it maintained. It’s just to the point where it’s almost too much to take care of.”

While modern jails have glass paneling, the Carson County jail, built in 1952, still has bars, like those shown in old movies. Jailers walking by those bars risk getting grabbed by inmates. Jailers use old keys to open cells.

The jail also recently flunked an inspection by the state’s Commission on Jail Standards, which regulates county jails statewide, in part because of overcrowding. He said the county sends extra inmates to Childress at a cost of $35 per day, plus the cost of transporting the inmates and any medical expenses.

Ochiltree County Sheriff Terry Bouchard also sends inmates to Childress and said the county budgets about $60,000 a year to pay the costs. The county’s jail, attached to the courthouse and built in 1957, also failed a jail inspection earlier this year.

“All of these older jails were built prior to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards,” Bouchard said.

When the inmate population in Ochiltree County spikes, especially on the weekends, he battles overcrowding because there’s no holding cell.

“My jail was designed without a holding cell,” he said. “If I had a holding cell, I could house six inmates for 48 hours.”

He said he is reworking the jail to house a holding cell. On Tuesday, four of his inmates, two of each sex, were in Childress.

“We kind of have to shuffle inmates around,” he said. “It’s inconvenient, but its not nearly as costly as building a new jail.”

Earlier this year, Childress County opened its $7 million sheriff’s office and detention center on U.S. Highway 287. It has space to house 96 inmates.

Sheriff Mike Pigg said the jail also houses inmates from Wheeler and Moore counties and has “as-needed contracts” with a dozen counties. Childress County also recently launched a transport service. For an extra $3 a day, the county will pick up inmates and drop them off.

The jail has been hovering at about 30 percent to 40 percent capacity, Pigg said.

The old jail, which was on the fourth floor of the county courthouse, was one of the oldest in the region, opened in 1939. At the beginning, it had plenty of space; at the end, overcrowding problems left inmates sleeping on the floor, Pigg said.

“It wasn’t a good thing,” he said.

And when the elevator was broken, inmates and jailers had to climb about 200 steps, he said. Some of those being booked were intoxicated.

“I don’t know how they got them up there,” he said.

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