BALLINGER, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Understaffed, underequipped, overwhelmed and overlooked: these were all terms used to describe life behind the Runnels County Jail iron doors as safety issues continue to barrel down on officers, inmates and other faculty.

It was in March of 2023 that Runnels County was forced to send its entire inmate roster to Tom Green County Jail due to a safety issue involving the interior doors. Runnels County Judge Julia Miller said the electric doors would not shut all the way, causing great concerns for the jail officers and staff.

That is just one of many issues facing the Runnels County Jail, as county commissioners met Thursday night (May 4) to discuss a menagerie of possibilities to ensure everyone involved at the facility is well taken care of, as well as the community of Ballinger.

Judge Miller said the Runnels County Jail had failed the Texas Jail Commission inspection, leading them to be placed on a non-compliant list and being put on a strict deadline to fix the long list of issues presently hindering the facility.

Judge Miller told KTAB/KRBC at the meeting that estimates are ranging from $50,000 to up to $250,000 in repairs, the latter being used for plumbing issues alone.

Here is a condensed list of the major current issues in the facility:

  • Plumbing, but specifically the toxicity of sewer gas. Jail officials said it began leaking sewer gas roughly four years after the jail was established and one surveyor said the jail has “an overwhelming sewer gas smell that needs immediate attention.” Another assessor called it the “worst plumbing they’ve ever seen” in a Texas jail.
  • Both the cell doors and locks have been repeatedly broken and fixed, with many of the inmates doors rusting due to flooding and mopping.
  • After a major storm, sever roof damage occurred and the jail believes the entirety of the roof needs to be replaced.
  • Inadequate monitoring systems throughout the jail, with some as old as the jail. Issues include no sound on some camera feeds, some consistently break and some don’t work at all, leaving blind spots for the inmates and guards throughout the facility.
  • Heating and A/C system is 20-years old.
  • They need at least two different safe areas and an updated fire escape plan, because there is no current secure area to take the inmates out safely.
  • No perimeter fence at the facility.
  • Need two padded cells
  • No facilities for kids 17 and under
  • Need to have at least 32 staff members to meet standards. The Jail currently has 19 full-time employees and one part-time.

Runnels County Jail also has a large population of extremely violent inmates, according to Jail Administrator Kimberly Dunn. She said they can be housed there for up to three years.

Dunn also mentioned a lack of sufficient housing for female inmates, as well as more separation cells for mentally-ill inmates, violent inmates and the occasional transgender inmates who have to be housed separately.

Working quickly, Runnels County hired an assessor roughly two weeks ago to give them options on how to alleviate these issues. He came back and gave five different options to pursue:

  • Repair the jail as is
  • Address and repair all the current issues while updating the facilities functionality
  • Build a new jail entirely with the sheriff’s office attached
  • Build a new jail without the sheriff’s office attached
  • Abandon the jail and house inmates at other counties.

Judge Julia Miller said their two best options to raise funds would be to raise taxes or to bond with certificates of obligation, allowing for a petition that could place jail repairs onto the November ballot election. She said raising taxes was not their first choice and would rather use certificates of obligation instead, but due to their September deadline, they would still need to have repaired enough to meet standards set by the Texas Jail Commission.

If they elect to build a new facility, they are looking at building a 72-bed facility that will house 12 female cells with a minimum 20% females cells, 20% flex cells (meaning multi-use or whatever is needed at the time) and the rest male cells. That would cost roughly $18,838,628 to build and would take two to three years to complete.

Here is a list of the estimated prices for the other four options:

  • Option 1, repair current facility : $8,617,870
  • Option 2, address everything and address functionality, $17, 763,845
  • Option 3, build new jail: $18,838,628
  • Option 4, new jail w/o sheriffs office: $17,500,000
  • Option 4, send inmates elsewhere: $1,394 million estimated annual cost ($75 a day to ship an inmate not including transportation), and over 20 years, that’s $27.8 million.

Judge Julia Miller said they are still in preliminary discussions, but understands the tight timeframe they are working with. She said discussions will continue in the weeks to follow, but is unsure of when a final verdict will be made.