North Texas Daily

Denton County Jail expansion still underway

Denton County Jail expansion still underway

Denton County Jail expansion still underway
March 04
08:51 2014

Javier Navarro // Staff Writer

In September, Denton County Jail inmates will have new living quarters as the jailhouse is undergoing a $30 million expansion on Woodrow Lane.

The 87,000-square-foot construction will feature 384 beds and have four floors, as well as more than 2,800 square feet in renovation, according to a Satterfield and Pontikes press release.

Sandi Brackeen, public information officer for the Denton County Sheriff’s Office, said the growing population in Denton County is one of the reasons why the jail expansion is important.

“With an increasing population comes a natural increase in the population of the jail,” Brackeen said. “We are initially replacing 192 beds now in the temporary wooden barrack structures built in 1992 and adding 192 beds including housing for special needs population, including medical and mental health related needs.”

The cells in the new building will provide beds in single, double and open-dormitory-style cells, according to the release. The building will also “include holding cells, shell space, day rooms, cell pods and multipurpose support spaces.”

The next step on the timetable for construction is getting the building dried in, the process of adding exterior necessities such as roofs and windows after minimizing the moisture inside the buildings, Brackeen said. The last time the Denton County Jail received an upgrade is when the Pre-Trial building was built in 2000.

Denton County budget officer Donna Stewart said the project was approved in a bond election that was held in 2008. She also said the majority of the funds will be paid for in annual debt payments during a 20-year period.

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“The county also added to the scope of the project and have funded the difference with tax notes—paid for over a seven-year period—utilized Capital Replacement contingency funds and used the proceeds from the sale of property on McKinney Street,” Stewart said.

Stewart said the original scope of the project requested by the sheriff’s office was to include a remote jail facility to provide mental health and maximum-security beds, as well as replacing the current wooden barracks located at the jail site. But now, the Sheriff’s Department revised the scope of the project to include new requests, such as providing additional necessary jail bed space and incorporating video visitation.

Satterfield and Pontikes Construction was approved to construct the county jail and began construction more than a year ago.

The population of Denton County has grown from 432,976 in 2000 to 662,614 in 2010, a 53 percent change, according to the Denton Economic Development. Denton County is also projected to have a population of more than one million by 2030.

Criminal justice professor Soraya Kawucha said county jails getting expansions are remarkably frequent. She also said with a growing population in Denton County, it is important to have a jail expansion to prevent overcrowding issues.

“If there’s a greater population, then very often—even if the crime rate remains the same—you’re still arresting more people, so you got to have some place to house them,” Kawucha said. “You can’t exactly pile [the inmates] in there like sardines, so at a certain point you’re going to have to expand or else face some serious penalties from judges for the overcrowding conditions.”

Kawucha is originally from Los Angeles and worked at a sheriff’s department where the jail area she worked in had an overcrowding problem. Kawucha said the department had to find ways to accommodate for the extra people. One of the easiest ways to place them is to have them sleep on the floor, or in some case, have them sleep in the shower.

“But sometimes the usual and short-term solutions is to simply start releasing people early,” Kawucha said. “It’s not necessarily the safest or smartest [solution], but sometimes it’s the only one.”

The price of the Denton County jail expansion is also minimal compared to other county jail expansions, Kawucha said. She said spending $100 million or more usually comes with expanding some of the bigger county jails.

“But while [expansions] are relatively frequent, you’re not going to see Denton go through another expansion like this for some time,” Kawucha said.

The Denton County jail expansion is on track to be completed on time, Brackeen said.

Center photo: Denton County Jail construction is expected to be completed in September, giving the building more space and updated amenities. Photo by Zach Estrada / Contributing Photographer 

Feature photo: Juvenile intake sign at the Denton County Jail on Woodrow Lane. Photo by Zach Estrada / Contributing Photographer 

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