BELTON — Bell County’s quest to find bed space for local inmates will send sheriff’s deputies on a 600-mile — more than 10 hours long — round trip out west.
This new trek for deputies and inmates is due to two interlocal agreements unanimously approved by the Bell County Commissioners Court on Monday. The agreements are with Terry and Garza counties, both located southwest and southeast of Lubbock, respectively.
The two agreements now add to the several the county already has where it pays daily rates to keep inmates at other county’s facilities.
Other agreements Bell County has made include those with Milam, Williamson, McLennan, Robertson, and Limestone counties.
Bell County Sheriff’s Maj. Shane Sowell, the county’s jail administrator, said the jail got lucky to find spaces in these counties after putting up a need for space on a state request board.
“It has been very hard right now, we have called numerous counties for bed space,” Sowell said. “We were fortunate enough to be a part of a listserv across the state and these guys said that they had a few beds available. With our current population where it is, I couldn’t pass it up.”
A drive from the Bell County Jail to the Garza County Jail is about 312 miles, taking about five hours, while the trip to Terry County is more than 360 miles and will take at least five hours and 30 minutes.
Sowell said the county has been considering hiring private transport companies to help move inmates, but that would only be for those who need to go outside the state.
Jail officials previously said they prefer to keep the population at the Bell County facility at about 925 inmates, but that has been difficult in recent months. Sowell said the county’s jail system has kept stable at about 1,200 total inmates, including those housed in other facilities around the state.
Sowell said the number of transfers the county does each week varies, but they do try to be smart on who they transfer and to where.
“We try to strategize so we don’t have to do the continuous transport of these individuals,” Sowell said. “The deputies have been staying busy, they have been doing an outstanding job.”
To solve its issue with available space, commissioners approved an $11.5 million project to add 192 additional minimum security beds last month. The expansion is part of the county’s overall $129 million jail expansion.
Additionally, county officials allocated $3.5 million earlier this year for housing inmates in other counties.
“So not only is space getting hard to find, it is getting expensive,” Bell County Judge David Blackburn said. “So the sooner we can get additional space in our jail, and our campus in Bell County, the better off we will be financially.”
Sowell said some ground work on the new jail facility has been started already, but completion is still a long way out.