HUNTSVILLE, WALKER COUNTY 150 inmates in Walker County are settling in to their new home. The Sheriff's office quietly transferred the entire jail population Wednesday morning.
Among the inmates moved was Howard Wayne Lewis, the man charged with murdering his infant son and former mother-in-law, and three men charged in a killing at the Sam Houston Nation Forest.
KBTX was the only media outlet allowed into the secure facility during the transfer.
The huge sally port is the first thing inmates saw when the got off a prison bus Wednesday. Compared to the old jail, this sally port is massive. The borrowed Texas Department of Criminal Justice bus easily fits inside. There's actually room for a couple of buses.
Handcuffed to each other, and in groups of eight, they exit the bus and wait to get processed. It is a simple task that could go very wrong.
"You always have the risk of escape," says Walker County Sheriff Clint McRae. He knows all to well that inmates will take any chance they can to get out of jail. It was just a few years ago that Trent Archie forced his way past jail staff, escaping out the front door of the jail.
The whole ordeal was caught on camera. McRae said having only a single door between offenders and civilians was definitely unsafe. The new jail is set up so that doesn't happen.
"You always have the risk of uses of force and things of that nature, but everything has gone really smooth up to this point," he continued.
Inmates get strip searched, a new uniform and their belongings gone through. Despite coming from a secure jail, staff want to make sure nothing illegal gets in. Jail staff only find a handful of items that aren't allowed. Those items are thrown out.
"We'll be able to oversee them a lot closer in this current facility. Once every one gets acclimated, I'm foreseeing less problems," shared McRae.
The old facility was built in 1980. McRae says it hasn't met state jail standards for 16 years. Walker County has only kept getting re-certified because of efficient operations and a "grandfather" clause. The inmates that were being housed outside of Walker County, due to space limitations at the old jail, were brought back. McRae says the county jail population changed enough to let them bring those inmates back to be housed at the old jail before being transferred to the new jail.
"Stay on the brown floor!" shouts McRae. He's referring to the color of the floor tiles. Inmates walk along the right hand side of the hallway on the way to their new living quarters. The new jail, as configured, will hold 268. It has a maximum of 566. As of Wednesday, it was just over half full.
Inmates live in pods with eight beds. A guard and video cameras watch the pods 24 hours a day. McRae is quick to point out the cameras in each pod.
"If they go in there and destroy property, such as a TV, It's on video," he explained. The sheriff says that additional criminal charges will be pursued and they'll be prosecuted based on the damage.
One inmate gets transferred alone. Howard Wayne Lewis is facing multiple murder charges. Sheriff's investigators say he killed his infant son and former mother-in-law back in July. He joins three others suspected of murder in a killing in the Sam Houston National Forest.
The new facility was built in large part because of the 11 escapes from the old jail since it was built in 1980. The other factor was age. McRae says the old jail was used well past it's 25 year life span. The new facility is rated for 40 years of use. They also built the structure to be easily expanded to meet the needs of the county.