County jail extension project begins soonFree Access

Jail passes inspection 38 years in a row

Leon Zabava

Staff Writer

Atascosa County Commis-sioners’ Court approved the design plans for enlargement/renovation of the Atascosa County jail. Work on the project will begin late February/early March with construction to be finished this year.

Architect is Wayne Gondeck, with DRG Architects, and the contractor who is the construction manager is Butler-Cohen from Houston.

Atascosa County Sheriff David Soward said, “They’ve built a lot of jails and we interviewed more than one contractor and Butler-Cohen was unanimously selected by myself, the judge, one of the commissioners and the architect, Wayne Gondeck. That was presented to Commissioners’ Court who approved it.”

“DRG Architects was the same architect that designed this original jail in 1982,” said Sheriff Soward. “It was his (Wayne’s) father, and then in 1989 they added on to the jail and Wayne was working for the firm at that point in time. Same outfit, same architect and they know this place ‘inside and out’. That’s been a big benefit to us and it saves us problems and probably money as well.”

Adding on to the jail will cost somewhere in the area of $10,000,000.

“We don’t build a jail for a purpose of income. We build it, strictly, for our needs. Needs here, presently, and in the future,” said Sheriff Soward. “But, it goes without saying, we’re not going to use a lot of these beds probably in the first five years or more. So, we will rent them out. In 1989 when they added on to the jail, they were able to make all the payments for that $6,000,000 job out of inmate housing income. We don’t know that we’ll get the whole $10,000,000 back but we’ll get a substantial amount of it in the first few years, housing inmates from other counties.

Sherrif Soward stated that it is not a lot of additional expense because we have the personnel already. He said that it is, basically food which is not expensive because it is bought in bulk from a company that specializes in jail food and so forth.

“I think it’s a ‘win-win’ situation for Atascosa County,” said Soward. “We have to meet our needs and, unfortunately, you know you have to have more jail space.  I wish that was not the case but we all know it is.”

Soward said that he sees nothing in the plans that are unnecessary especially because there has been so much growth in this area.

“They’re all necessities and things that we have to do to move forward and be able to house the inmates that we need to house. There are no frivolous offices. There are four small offices for jail lieutenant and the commissaries officer in the jail and the administrative assistant to the jail administrator. We have those small offices there where they have a place to do their work.

“I think it’s going to be a great addition. We’re looking forward  to getting it done.”

In the new addition, the jail will lose about eight beds from the current 138 and then add 84 for a total of 214 beds. The new addition will extend off on the west side and go south. The current alley behind the jail has been closed and deeded over from the city to the county. Construction will go across the alley and into what used to be an old precinct yard. It will extend almost to Elm Street and will extend out east.

A new kitchen was incorporated into the plans to replace the outdated one that was not big enough. There will be four offices for jail personnel. There’ll be a large storage room and loading dock where food and supplies are unloaded. There will be segregation cells – individual cells and you have multi-inmate cells on the far south end.

Sheriff Soward said that it is important to note that the county is not just building this just to be building it. The jail has been running right at capacity and over on a daily basis for about two years. Soward said he does not want it to get to the point where Atascosa County has to house prisoners in other counties and pay those  counties for our prisoners. “This is something we don’t want to do,” said Soward.

“We get a couple of calls a month from other counties looking for beds,” said Soward. “When we build this facility, we’re building for fifteen to twenty years down the road. It’s certainly cheaper to build it now than it would be later on.”

The jail is being built with some rooms that will be available to rent out and bring in some substantial income to the county. In addition, on this renovation, the jail is going to renovate the dispatch station so it can house as many as four dispatchers instead of the current two.

The former dispatch area will become a communications supervisor’s office which will also have equipment for dispatching.

“Our 911 center is the busiest in our area, outside the metropolitan area (San Antonio). We have more calls than all the other counties in our area,” said Sheriff Soward.

What used to be the courtroom near the entrance to the jail was renovated last year into a squad room and three offices for investigators. Soward stated that they basically lost a place to have meetings and for training. Part of the new jail addition will include a 1,000 square foot training/classroom/meeting area on the east side portion of the jail.

The entrance will still be off of Campbell to the sally port where prisoners are dropped off. Vehicles will loop around and come back out to Campbell instead of coming out onto SH 16 as they do now.

In addition, the east cell block which is the oldest part of the jail, will be renovated to hold additional female prisoners. Soward stated that the need to increase female capacity is badly needed.

Sheriff Soward gave a quick review of some renovations that were done at the jail last year.

“This room here is our new squad room where the courtroom used to be,” said Sheriff Soward.

“It was renovated last year as a small project.” The squad room contains 24 individual stations for patrol deputies. Each deputy has their own station and ability to lock stuff up in their drawers, overhead cabinets, internet capability at each station.

“They can bring their laptops in or they can station a laptop in here,” said Sheriff Soward. “It’s a great place where they can come in and do their reports and other work. They can keep their own stuff organized and to themselves. This was something we needed badly,” said Sheriff Soward. “The old squad room was built for about 12 officers, so it was grossly outgrown. We’re ‘up to speed now’.

Outside of the squad room are three offices for criminal investigators. Before, investigators had doubled up for years. Now each investigator has their own office. They can do interviews and do work without interfering with another investigator. There’s a jail adminstrator’s office right down the hall. Prior to renovation, the administrator could hardly even turn around in his small office.

Jail Inspection passes 38th 

year in a row

“Every year we get inspected by the Texas Jail Commission and we have to pass a rigorous inspection in order to be certified and to be in compliance and be able to operate.

Sheriff Soward said that the Atascosa County jail had a surprise inspection on December 18, 2017.  He said while all of the inspections are a surprise this one was even more so because they had just been inspected three months earlier.

“We passed inspection for the 38th year in a row,” said Sheriff Soward. “So, we are in compliance with the Texas Jail Commission. We’re pleased with that.”

“Our jail administrator, Captain Martin Gonzales, and Lieutenant Mike Benavides and their staff did a great job of being ready for that inspection even though we didn’t know it was coming. The jail was ready to go.”

Sheriff Soward said he was proud to also announce Captain Gonzales will be sworn in this coming May to become president of the Texas Jail Association. He’s currently first vice president. They meet four times every year, twice in Austin for their regular meeting and twice in Galveston for training conferences. Gonzales has been with the sheriff’s department for 19 years. 

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