Construction for the new Walker County Jail is ahead of schedule. According to Capt. Steve Fisher, the new $19 million facility was originally set to be completed by April 2014. "Sedalco is constantly updating its projections," said Fisher.
Walker County Sheriff Clint McRae told News 3 they are working with Sedalco and other specialized companies, which have enabled them to think about opening their doors even earlier. Although McRae is pleased with construction, he said it's still a massive undertaking that no one really desires, especially in his position.
“It would have been perfectly fine for me if the project itself would have been done prior to me taking over as Sheriff, or not be needed until after I retire,” said Sheriff McRae.
He said the current Walker County Jail hasn't been up to code for the past 16 years. “The state of Texas for several years now, has actually been putting some pressure on Walker County, telling us, 'hey, if y’all don’t get a project underway, a new jail started, we can potentially come in and shut your facility down.”
McRae said if they do get shut down, the transportation among inmates to and from another county would cost taxpayers even more money. For instance, last year alone, McRae said Walker County spent at least $100,000 to house inmates outside the area. He said that was spent very conservatively and could have easily exceeded that amount. However, money was not the sole reasoning behind the new facility. Safety for employees and the community as a whole played another big factor in the final decision.
"Our facility here is nowhere near as safe as our new facility will be," McRae expressed.
Back in June 2011, Walker County made headlines when inmate Trent Archie escaped. McRae showed News 3 the door between the holding area where inmates were checked in and where other employees remained. He said having only a single door between offenders and civilians was definitely unsafe and will not be the case at the new jail down the street.
"The way our new jail is," said McRae, "unless they're showering or using the restroom, they will be in view of an employee."
The existing jail has the old traditional lock and key setup; but the new jail will operate with an electric system. Since the new high tech gadgets will require some getting used to, existing staff, in addition to the 7 new staff members they plan to hire, all will receive hands on training.
"It'll consist of working the floor, learning the computer system, the phone system, all the software systems, all the different locking mechanisms and all the security factors that are in place," said McRae.
The additional 7 staff members are all part of the requirements held by the Commission of Jail Standards. According to the standards, inmates cannot be housed in the new jail if the staff has not expanded. Fisher said they expect to hire the new employees in December or January so they are given ample time, along with the existing staff, to be comfortable with the new facility's technology.
After the new facility has been completed, the Texas Commission of Jail Standards will inspect it and ensure it undergoes an occupancy test before it can open. Fisher estimates these final details could take as long as a month.
The debt of the new jail was funded through a tax increase in 2012. The County Commissioner Court unanimously approved another tax increase starting October 2013 for a handful of projects, including the 7 additional new jail employees.