Pubdate: Sun, 29 Apr 2007
Source: Waco Tribune-Herald (TX)
Copyright: 2007 Waco-Tribune Herald
Author: Tommy Witherspoon, Tribune-Herald staff writer
Bookmark: (Women)


Every day, McLennan County Sheriff Larry Lynch and Capt. Johnny Mynar
sit down over cups of coffee and address the same persistent problem -
overcrowding at the county jail.

Lately, a glimmer of hope has imbued those morning sessions,
particularly as the way felony cases are handled in McLennan County
begins to change. But so far, crushing jailhouse numbers continue to
demand resourcefulness and even more vigilance on the part of law
enforcement officers.

"The jail population is the first order of our business each and every
day," Lynch said. "We have to know what is going on at the jail and
decide what we can do to stay in compliance."

Sometimes that means shuffling some prisoners from one cell block to
another, moving some women inmates downtown to the old county jail
that is leased to a private detention company or letting some go on
reduced bonds.

The biggest problem facing jail officials is the surge in female
inmates or, as Lynch puts it, "women gone bad in McLennan County."
With a maximum capacity for 96 female prisoners, the county jail
system was holding 145 women at week's end.

Lynch and Mynar, who oversees the county jail, have moved 30 women to
the downtown jail operated by CiviGenics. Before long they may be
followed by male inmates, the sheriff says.

Lynch says spiraling drug and alcohol abuse and prostitution have
driven the female inmate population to record levels, forcing daily
scrambles to keep the jail in state compliance.

The county jail on State Highway 6 has capacity for 931 inmates. The
population reached 936 last week and was expected, as always, to
increase over the weekend.

"Our wiggle room on the weekends gets very critical," Lynch

McLennan County bought eight acres west of the Highway 6 jail a couple
of years ago, but relying on the CiviGenics jail for overflow is the
county's first fall-back plan during crunch time.

"We're not ready to start breaking ground any time soon" on a
jail-expansion project, County Judge Jim Lewis said.

When the sheriff raised the jail-crowding issue in a county
commissioners meeting last year, commissioners expressed concern but
didn't offer solutions. Lewis said then that adding on to the State
Highway 6 jail would be the "last resort." Terminating the lucrative,
$800,000-a-year contract with CiviGenics and taking back the downtown
jail was the "next-to-last resort," the judge said.

The county passed a March 9 inspection by the State Jail Standards

But when the jail gets more than 90 percent full, or 837 inmates, it
becomes increasingly difficult for jailers to properly classify and
house the inmates, Chief Deputy Randy Plemons said.

Women inmates represent a particular challenge because they must be
segregated from the men.

"We want to be proactive," Lynch said. "We saw this coming several
months ago and increases in female population are what is really
impacting us. Once you take over a cell block with females, that kills
that entire cell block for having males in there."

Lynch says CiviGenics Warden Mike Wilson has cooperated when the
sheriff has needed to move inmates from Highway 6 to the downtown
location. Even so, the county must pay the company $27 a day per
inmate housed by CiviGenics, which leases the building from McLennan
County and primarily houses federal prisoners.

To help ease the jail population, Lynch regularly visits with judges
and prosecutors to update them on the problem and to see if there is
anything they can do to help.

"We are always mindful of the jail population and I am in
communication with the sheriff in regard to it," County Court-at-Law
Judge Mike Freeman said.

County officials hope a major change in the way felony cases are
handled will move the criminal docket along more quickly, reducing the
backlog of county jail inmates waiting for their cases to reach court.

Judge Ralph Strother of Waco's 19th State District Court will be
taking on more felony criminal cases to add to his civil docket while
54th State District Judge Matt Johnson will maintain his full-time
load of felony cases.

"We are looking at all our options," Lewis said. "Everything from
shipping them out to relying on the courts more on the criminal side
to electronic monitoring of inmates."
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