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County budget office weighs up new correctional complex

Thursday, June 3, 2021 by Seth Smalley

At their May 27 work session, Travis County commissioners fielded a presentation on the 20-year road map for the Travis County Correctional Complex. Representatives from the Planning and Budget Office, the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, and the Justice Planning Department presented to commissioners on a range of topics, from demographic breakdowns of the facility population to intended renovations.

Christy Moffett, along with Joe Silva and Jessica Rio, ran the presentation for the Planning and Budget Office, while Captain Maria Velasquez and Sheriff Sally Hernandez presented on behalf of the Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s important to note that unlike cities and other municipalities, the county is only allowed to do what the state specifically says we can, as it relates to operating jails,” Moffett told commissioners.

A system-needs analysis conducted by outside consultants in 2015 provided a comprehensive analysis of the facility, assessing population projections, available health and mental health programming and necessary staffing among a host of other parameters.

“The system-needs analysis provides the baseline data and information needed to create the 20-year plan,” Moffett said.

The presentation, however, focused specifically on the report’s conclusions about jail population and bed space capacity.

“The challenge is no longer about having a sufficient number of beds; it’s about having the right type of beds to address a changing high-need population.” Moffett also noted a declining population of “higher-need” incarcerated individuals.

The report outlined a road map to improve the facility’s condition. Many of the facility’s buildings were given “poor” ratings, while the majority of buildings did not score higher than “fair.” Proposed renovations included a kitchen expansion, a new training academy and construction of a new jail downtown.

Moffett highlighted the need to improve a number of the poorly rated buildings, especially those devoted to Sheriff’s Department training.

The estimated budget costs for fixing the various issues came in at around $240.5 million. This estimate also included a new central booking facility downtown as well as a new facility designed specifically for women.

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