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Walker County Jail In Bad Shape

Jun 15th, 2011 | Category: Conditions in County Jails, Walker County

Via KBTX   Jun 14, 2011, Reporter: Michael Oder, oder@kbtx.com

The Walker County Jail is in bad shape. Cracking walls, rusting posts and not enough space are just some of the problems. The problems with the building are so severe it may soon affect who gets to go and who gets to stay at the jail.

Sheriff Clint McRae opened the the jail Tuesday morning for an exclusive News Three tour. As we found out, the problems with the building are so severe it may soon affect who gets to go and who gets to stay at the jail.

Ernst Jewelers has been in Huntsville for over 100 years. “Since 1893,” says owner Robert Ernst. A majority of those years, Ernst has been right on the square in downtown Huntsville.

As a jeweler, Ernst knows about keeping things locked up. As a business owner, he knows that people who steal from him should be locked up too.

“The same criminals that are doing this are those that are more of a menace to the kids and everybody else out there,” says Ernst.

But the Walker County Jail, where most people serve their time for lesser crimes, is showing it’s age.

Walker County Sheriff Clint McRae knows every inch of the jail. Expanding cracks in the wall aren’t only affecting the structure, they’re affecting the holding cells too.

“We’ve had to take a grinder and actually grind the doorway,” explains McRae. The door he’s talking about is to a cell holding a maximum security prisoner.

The wall has shifted so much, that the door has had to be pried open more than once.

The conditions at the jail are so well known, that when judges in Walker County sentence people, they take into consideration whether or not there’s space at the jail to hold them.

“We have to ask things like, ‘Do we really need to waste bed space on this individual?’ We also cut down the amount of time required,” explains Walker County District Attorney David Weeks.

Inmates are staying locked up for less time because, in some spots, the rust is eating through the walls. It’s not just the cells that are in bad shape and short supply, the building itself is crumbling.

“The building is deteriorating extremely quick,” says McRae, standing in front of the Walker County Jail. The entrance has been replaced once after the brick exterior fell off. There are chucks of bricks along the wheelchair ramp as well.

If the jail loses it’s certification, it has to be shut down. Sheriff McRae says they can’t expand the jail because they would lose their certification. The Texas Commission on Jails, the state’s governing board on Jails, has grandfathered the Walker County Jail. This allows them to operate even while having the problems they do.

Any expansion would require the entire facility to be brought up to current jail standards.

“I think if they went ahead and built the new jail facility, it would eliminate a big problem,” says Ernst.

The jeweler thinks the solution to all this is simple.

“I think if they’re going to commit the crime, they need to serve the time,” says Ernst.

Very soon, there may not be the place in Walker County for them to serve the time.

McRae says, even with the problems they have, the jail is one of 45 or so jails in the state to be certified for use five years in a row.

Walker County Commissioners have formed a committee to evaluate the future of the current jail.

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