Visitors at Smith County Jail speak out on jail conditions - KYTX CBS 19 Tyler Longview News Weather Sports

Visitors at Smith County Jail speak out on jail conditions

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SMITH COUNTY (KYTX) -- As we reported Monday, Smith County commissioners have announced a town hall meeting next month about the possibility of a new jail, but some East Texans are already speaking out. 

CBS 19's Anthony Austin spoke with people today who had a lot to say -- they were visiting their loved ones in jail. While no one ever likes to see their family members behind bars, the visitors told me the condition of this jail makes it even worse.     

It's visiting hours at the Smith County Jail, and a long line is forming outside the door. But, these visitors say they will have to wait at least an hour before they can get inside. "Even senior citizens, when it's cold, rainy, snowing, they don't allow anybody in there."

There isn't enough space inside the visiting area, and from what we're told, not enough phones either. "They've been out for a long time, you have to holler through a little screen and its hard to hear."

So, visitors use their own homemade devices to speak with their loved ones. "This is what we use to talk out of and to hear better: a Styrofoam cup. We cut both ends out of it."

"Bend your head in that window, twist and turn to get there, it's actually hard."

In the past few years, Smith County has been trying to build a new jail to solve these problems. But, three jail bond proposals have been rejected by voters because of the hefty price tags. "People have elected me to try and find a solution," Commissioner Jeff Warr said. He has come up with a $33 million jail expansion plan. It includes a new visitor's area, along with better laundry and kitchen facilities. 

384 additional beds will be included in the expansion. It's room that Commissioner Warr says can't come soon enough. "Just in the last 45 days, we've had to move all of our prisoners to different jails because of compliance issues," he said.

They're all issues visitors are tired of dealing with. "We do need a new jail. I don't care where it's at!"   

These visitors are hoping the current jail plan will move forward. Commissioners hope to put the jail bond proposal on the May ballot. 
Since 2004, Smith County has spent more than $16 million dollars in moving inmates to other counties. That's a large price tag.

You can voice your concerns about the jail expansion project. A town hall style meeting is set for February 10th, at 4:00 pm. It will be held in the courthouse's central jury room.

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