With San Patricio County experiencing massive growth due to the expanding industry in the area, one thing that is growing right along with it is the county jail population.
What isn’t growing is the actual jail itself.
“We are at capacity,” San Patricio County Sheriff Oscar Rivera said. “We recently had to move 10 male prisoners to the Bee County jail. They just built a new jail which ended up being much larger than they needed.
“We’ve also seen a big trend in females jailings. We used to hold six, maybe 12 at a time. Now we have 60. So we send those soccer moms to Atascosa County.”
Rivera said that he doesn’t have a reason for the upward trend of arrests of females, but noted that they are mostly drug related.
Housing inmates elsewhere doesn’t pass the buck either. Each inmate costs San Patricio taxpayers $50 a day, so for the 10 in Bee County that’s $500 a day along with the $500 for the 10 women costing the county $1,000 a day.
That price tag isn’t all. Rivera said that if the inmates need to go to court, the county has to pick them up, deliver them to court and then may have to take them back. Add to that any medical treatments they need and the price begins to skyrocket.
Jails being filled to capacity isn’t just a San Patricio County issue. Their neighbor to the south, Nueces County, is facing the same problem and they are planning to send inmates to Aransas or Victoria County.
While Nueces County is blaming the overcrowding situation on issues stemming from the pandemic, Rivera says new industry is the cause for his jail reaching capacity.
“(The jail) has not grown in 20 years, but industry has and that’s been where most of our arrests are from – industry,” Rivera said. “People getting arrested for stupid things like DWI’s and what have you.
He added that while the sheriff’s office isn’t currently taking in those arrested for misdemeanors or parolees unless they are involved in violent crimes or family violence cases, it still hasn’t helped overcrowding.
So is the county looking for a solution to solve this issue?
“Right now we’re not,” Rivera said.
He said the county is looking to build a new courthouse annex with plans to empty a large portion of the current courthouse which will in turn make room for the health department, located at the Plymouth Annex building across the street from the jail. From there they are talking about using that building as another part of the jail.
“To me it’s just not feasible,” Rivera continued. “Number one, you’re going to have to put a skywalk between the two buildings to walk across Rachel Street, to attach both of them is going to be expensive.”
Rivera said add onto that the costs to make the electrical and HVAC systems pass inspection, then make it jail commission compliant, not to mention hiring a whole new staff, isn’t possible.
The one plan he would like to see get off the ground is building a second story behind the current jail which would add 50 more beds to the facility, but he doesn’t know how long that would take.
“There’s nothing we can do right now,” RIvera said.”If their intention is to do the courthouse, Plymouth building, it’s going to take years to get it done. It’s not going to be done overnight, but in the meantime we’ve got to do something here.
“We know we have a problem so let’s deal with it and let’s get it going.”