Jail 'depopulation' draws response from Llano County Sheriff

The sheriff responds, here, to ideas heard in a Llano County Commissioners Court budget workshop. They were published in the Tuesday, Aug. 8, edition of The Highlander and here, on HighlanderNews.com.

A Letter from Llano County Sheriff Bill Blackburn:

I would like to address the article in last week’s paper concerning the “depopulation” of the Llano County Jail.

First, only in the last two weeks did I know the term “depopulation” existed.

As to my current understanding of the term, it would mean shutting down jail operation, firing all jail personnel, transfer all prisoners to Burnet County Jail, transport people arrested in Llano County to Burnet for incarceration, which includes all arrest made by the City of Llano, Sunrise Beach Village, the portion of Horseshoe Bay that lies in Llano County and all arrest made by Llano County SO in all of Llano County, all arrests made by Texas Rangers, Texas DPS troopers, Texas Parks and Wildlife and any and all Federal Agencies that arrest in Llano County.

On a busy week that can be a lot of people and transports. That does not include people who are arrested when they show up for District and County Courts. It is common for people who show up for District Court to be arrested at court.

We sent over eight people for court one day and came back with 16. All these people would have to be transported to Burnet.

“Depopulation” would also include keeping the jail in operable condition to pass inspection by Texas Jail Standards, even though it has nothing in it. Failure to keep the jail in operable condition would result in the jail having to meet current new jail qualifications in order to open the jail again for prisoners.

I also have great concern about officer safety due to transport to Burnet with prisoners.

It has been said that, if the officer has his paperwork ready when he gets to Burnet jail, he can be out in minutes. That is just not practical and almost absurd.

People who are under arrest are sometimes not very cooperative and are usually very unhappy about their predicament at the time.

First, we do not have laptops to do paperwork on and, secondly, we would not do the paperwork while transporting a prisoner. Paperwork is done at the jail and currently that jail is in Llano, not 19 miles out of our county.

If we have a call break, we drop the prisoner with the jail and they place him in holding until we can get back and do the paperwork. At least we don’t have to drive 19 miles to get back in our own county.

I think book-in in Burnet would take minimum two and one-half hours out of county, with no backup for officers in county. Officer safety is my first priority.

I would also like to address the assumption that Llano PD, Sunrise Beach PD, and Horseshoe Bay PD do not utilize our jail very much, based on the $40 per day use fee.

The use fee is only charged if the person is in jail for a Class C misdemeanor only.

People are seldom arrested on class C charges alone. They may have some class C warrants but almost always have a Class B, Class A, or some felony charge. Due to the fact that Class B and higher charges are all arrestable offenses, the law requires the jail to accept all Class B and higher charges without a jail fee due.

I have talked with the District Court and have been advised that logistically it would probably not be possible to hold Court for Llano inmates in Burnet, because of the already crowded docket in the Burnet District courtrooms. That is why we have District Court here in Llano.

I would like to correct a statement attributed to me in last week’s paper. The article quoted me as saying we could have a 96-bed population by just adding beds. That is wholly incorrect. I said that the current jail has a kitchen and laundry areas that were built for a 96-bed jail population, and the current jail was constructed to be added on to and could become a 96-bed facility without additional laundry and kitchen add on.

There would have to be construction of a new wing on the jail for 42 more beds. I feel like the addition would be prudent in the light of increased jail population.

We are in the process now of having Jail Standards come in and do an assessment on the jail and give their recommendations. I would leave that decision to the people of Llano County but, in doing so, I would present my honest opinions.

How did we get here?

Since I have been in office, I have seen a gradual increase in jail population. The Sheriff’s Office has a lot of responsibly in day-to-day operations of the county. We transport prisoners, do considerable civil paperwork and serving of civil papers, we enforce the law in a very large unincorporated population throughout the county, run the jail, and last year answered approximately 24,000 calls to dispatch as well as run dispatch not only for law enforcement but for fire and EMS. We also dispatch for calls to the cities of Llano and Sunrise Beach.

We are also of assistance to any agency that needs help. We are busy.

The jail is the biggest pain a Sheriff can have. But due to the dedicated and well trained people who operate the jail, we do well.

The county judge in an e-mail referred to the employees of the jail, and I quote, “We currently have 12 employees on the staff in the jail and of those only three have been employed by the county for more than two years. Seven have been hired since June of 2016. Burnet jail currently has several openings and significant turnover. They have indicated they would be interested in hiring qualified applicants from Llano County,” end quote.

First and foremost, they are not just “employees.” They are well qualified, trained, and dedicated people who cover my and the county’s butt every day and night 24/7. They are friends and co-workers who have real lives and family who depend on their jobs for day-to-day living, just like everyone else.

Yes, three have been employed for three or more years and the other seven she refers to were hired in June of 2016.

Why so many you may ask? Because we had a mass exodus to Burnet when Burnet offered my trained jailers $5 to $7 dollars more per hour and I was left scrambling to run a jail with qualified people.

These people stepped up and stayed with me to get running again. Two came back from Burnet and we have a well-run jail because of these “employees” I will stand with them anytime, and the citizens of Llano County should too.

The jail is not the most serene atmosphere to work and it takes a special kind of person to work there and they are all special people, not “employees.”

When it comes to the subject of dispatch, my sentiments are the same as with the jail. We would lose dedicated people who depend on their jobs. We would lose all local control and valuable knowledge of the geographical layout of the county as well as our people being familiar with the people in Llano County.

I was informed of this “depopulation” effort for the first time on July 25th, 2017, and it came up at a budget hearing on August 1st, 2017.

One week to prepare for something as impacting and big as this was NOT time to prepare.

My job is to work for the people who elected me. I will do what they decide, but I will always remain loyal to the people I work with every day and who are dedicated to me and the people of Llano County.

I just wonder when I see Burnet, Hays, Lampasas, Brady, Fredericksburg, Kerrville, and Blanco County building new jails, WHY would we close Llano County Jail and send Burnet County a minimum of $900,000 Llano County taxpayer’s dollars every year for jail services?

Bill Blackburn

Llano County Sheriff

 

 

 

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