A Well Run Jail Serves Many Purposes
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
August 15, 2002
The first rule of Commissioner's Court operations I learned at my "Commissioner's Court 101" Course was to know how to count to three. Well, that's easy and of course, this refers to the essential majority needed to pass anything at Commissioner's Court. This does not necessarily refer to the partisan alignment on the Court for there are always independent thoughts and this Court has exercised its independence on numerous occasions, depending on the issues.
The second rule of Commissioner's Court operations, which I address here, is to have a good relationship with the Sheriff. And, though I have on occasion had different thoughts than this Sheriff, he has provided immense professionalism and benefits to our County. In particular, this Sheriff courageously lead the way to manage our Jail population so that a project that seemed necessary at the time---Cagnon Road, was converted into a much more economical Jail Annex so that a huge, gut-wrenching tax hike was averted.
It must be remembered that any thoughts about new jails always portends the financing of three shifts of employees. This is not true of most every other function of your County. The Road Camps, the Courthouses and other functions are able to operate on an eight-hour basis.
Among many of the ways your Commissioner's Court is constantly considering in order to economize without sacrificing a sensible level of services required, is to continually review the following areas of the jail operation.
As a family lawyer and Commissioner, I am continually aware of the individuals who have failed or refused to pay their child support. Many of these individuals have representation at the time of their hearing at which they are committed to jail. Once committed to jail however, it becomes the responsibility of the jailed parent to craft a pay plan, take it to the Judge for consideration and approval and go to work. This can be done on either a work-release basis or on probation.
The main thing is to show responsibility in child support payment while getting the parent back to work. Oftentimes however, without legal counsel the jailed parent just sits in jail without any effective effort to get them back to work so that they can continue to help support the child or children, reduce County expenses of daily upkeep as well as to keep a good work record. Failure to address these kinds of inmates costs the County and its taxpayers unnecessarily.
So, your County has retained the services of a Jail Population Monitor to bring information to Commissioner's Court about who is sitting in our jail without any benefit to our County. Who can better be out working and supporting family and community is always an appropriate question. Likewise, who is an inappropriate inmate due to mental disability or illness is an important assessment to make. Historically, the mentally ill were sent to jail when this merely resulted in their early return because the root cause of their incarceration was not addressed.
The Center for Health Care Services, a County mental health service through the University Health System, has with the County's participation, implemented an effort with four officers from the Sheriff's Office to assess individuals who may need mental health services in order to keep them from being an unnecessary part of the criminal justice system. For years the County has dealt with the presence of the mentally ill in the jail with little assistance in making the important decision as to who needs mental health services and who really needs to be incarcerated.