Not many organizations are subject to an unannounced annual inspection by another authority, but a county jail is. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards sets the rules we operate by and has the final say over our county jail, Wayne McCollum Detention Center. These rules cover everything from facility staffing to inmate meals to the booking-in process.
Right now, we’re averaging about 475 inmates in custody at any given time, which is down from a peak of about 515 a few weeks back. Through the years, WMDC has seen three phases built and has 856 beds available to fill. The Jail Commission requires us to have at least one jailer for every 48 inmates and that number doesn’t include the jail supervisors who have to be on hand.
Our jail budget covers 125 positions that include the captain over the jail, four lieutenants at one per shift, a lieutenant over transport, four sergeants with one per shift, six corporals whose duties include working the floor and the book-in desk and with the remainder as jailers, who are divided into four teams that work 12-hour shifts, from 6 a.m.-6 p.m. Included with the 125 positions are six civilian positions consisting of IT, maintenance and office staff.
New hires for a position in the jail must be at least 19 years of age. They complete a two-week online course that teaches them basic jail standards before they go out on the floor, where they spend a minimum of two months with a training officer. Jailers take a four-hour mental health class when they start out and they’re required to take a cultural diversity class every two years. They’re licensed with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement and can advance their certification from basic on up to the master’s level by taking additional classes. All of our jail supervisors go through mental health officer training and we have a group of detention officers who’ve gone through Special Operations Response Team training.
There are three levels of risk when classifying inmates – minimum, medium and maximum – and our jail, like most county jails, is designed as a maximum security facility. During the book-in process, we screen for risk based on the charge someone’s being arrested on, his or her past arrest history and charges and, if they’ve been in our facility before, past disciplinary issues. Medium level inmates can be housed with either minimum or maximum level inmates; however, minimum level inmates cannot be housed with maximum level inmates.
Due to a change in the rules, the minimum age for an inmate in a county facility is now 17; juveniles who’ve been declared adults remain housed in a juvenile facility until they turn 17, at which time they can be transferred to an adult facility. Another change in the rules is that we now have to ask more questions with the book-in process to try and identify someone who might be suicidal. The Jail Commission has released a new book-in form that must be filled out before anything else is done with an inmate.
It can be quite busy at the jail: Inmates have to be taken to their court appearances; they may have doctor or dental visits; we may have visitation going on; there are inmates being booked in and inmates being released. Breakfast gets served at 4:30 a.m., with lunch at 10:30 a.m. and dinner at 4:30 p.m., which is a schedule that keeps us within the Jail Commission’s regulations. All of our menus must reflect an available calorie intake of 2,800 calories per day and these are signed off on by a dietician. Inmates also have access to a commissary set up through a vendor three times a week that allows them to buy snack food and other items.
Under state law, we are allowed to retain a percentage of the commissary sales and use that money for jail-related uses, such as the installation of safety and security technology. We have a vendor that handles inmate medical, mental health and dental care, with nurses on-site 24/7. The service’s doctor, who is both a physician and a mental health professional, is on site two days a week and a counselor is on site another day. Our inmates also have access to a volunteer chaplain service that provides two non-denominational services per week, along with Bible studies and recovery classes.
Please, everyone, let’s keep our military and service personnel in our thoughts and prayers. We enjoy our rights and freedoms because of their service and safekeeping of our great nation. Y’all have a Blessed Week.
Johnny Brown has served as Sheriff of Ellis County since Jan. 1, 2009, and is a graduate of the National Sheriff’s Institute. He has been in law enforcement for more than 20 years and holds a Master’s Peace Officer’s Certificate with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education.