Robertson County officials celebrated the conclusion of nearly a decade of discussion by breaking ground on a new state-of-the-art sheriff’s office and 92-bed jail in June.
“Today has been a long time coming,” Robertson County Sheriff Gerald Yezak told a crowd of law enforcement officials, first responders, local political figures and business representatives during the groundbreaking ceremony. “We went from an 1880 jail to a 1988 jail that was already outdated when it was built with a 1970s design. What we will get this next fall is a facility I will be immensely proud of for our county.”
The $18.8 million, 44,000-square-foot facility will sit on approximately 9 acres and was designed by Brinkley Sargent Wiginton Architects in Dallas. It is slated to open in October 2020. Fort Worth-based SEDALCO Construction Services will manage construction.
Located approximately 1 mile from the existing 53-bed jail in the county seat of Franklin, the new dual-purpose facility will be noteworthy for several reasons.
Most significantly, the jail is designed to maximize inmate observation, utilizing both an elevated staff position (ESP) on the mezzanine level and a ground-level staff position via the male housing observation desk. Most jails employ a stationary staff position on the ground; the ESP is more common in BSW designs than ground-level monitoring.
Robertson County officials opted for the enhanced security strategy of both options to allow for faster response times to inmate incidents. Specifically, both the ESP and floor jailer positions provide staff views into the male housing units, the indoor exercise/multipurpose space used by male and female inmates, and the booking area.
Additionally, the master control room offers views of the jail’s primary corridor and into the processing and booking area, allowing for enhanced observation of inmates and more efficient use of staff. The facility’s design also includes expandable service spaces and future housing areas, a second multipurpose room, a non-contact visitation area and video visitation booths, three cells located in the processing area for violent individuals, and multiple holding and detox cells for both males and females.
Throughout, building materials were chosen based on their durability and ability to reduce noise levels and reverb, thus decreasing stress levels and allowing inmates and jailers to better hear each other during day-to-day operations and over the intercom systems.
The new jail’s 92-inmate capacity includes 67 beds for male inmates and 19 for females in the general population, plus four swing cells to accommodate another six inmates of either gender. A pair of two-person cells are provided to address concerns raised by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) passed by the U.S. Congress to protect the rights of incarcerated individuals to be safe from sexual assault. Two negative-pressure cells are located close to the facility’s medical area and can be used for either male or female inmates. They also are used for inmate segregation on an as-needed basis.
As the physical and mental health of inmates becomes an increasing source of concern because of the related liability and cost issues, Robertson County and many other Texas counties are complying with 2017’s Sandra Bland Act, which mandates additional efforts by Texas jails to help ensure the safety and security of inmates with mental illness. Based upon availability, inmates will be able to access medical and mental health professionals through the video visitation monitors located in the housing units.
In the new Robertson County facility, a primary corridor connects the sheriff’s office with the jail. Beyond the customary spaces for administration, dispatch, criminal investigation, evidence, patrol and support, the sheriff’s office also includes a Texas Ranger office and a 40-person training room that doubles as an emergency operations center.
A total of 74 spaces accommodate secure staff parking and visitor parking, and deliveries and entry into the staff parking lot will be controlled by barrier gates, cameras and an intercom. The site also will support a planned gas fueling station and impound yard.
The building will incorporate tilt-up wall panels and an exterior insulation finishing system for quick and economical construction.
“This is probably one of the most important projects for our county’s future,” shared Keith Petitt, who sits on the Robertson County Commissioners Court. “It has truly been a group effort by our Commissioners Court and our County Auditor Candice Anderson, who was extremely helpful behind the scenes. Through the design and development stages, we have created a facility that is 21st century – a facility that will meet the needs of our county for the next 40-plus years.”
In May, the Robertson County Commissioners voted unanimously to issue certificates of obligation to fund the new sheriff’s office and jail to supplement a sizable cash reserve the county already had on hand. As Commissioner Petitt explained to local media, had the project been delayed until a November referendum vote, the increasing costs of construction likely would have boosted the total price tag by another $1 million. That’s a risk the county couldn’t take, especially as “there are multiple jail standard violations that are taking [the current jail] out of compliance with the state,” Petitt told the media.
Indeed, it’s been no secret that the existing Robertson County Jail does not consistently meet standards set forth by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
The new Robertson County sheriff’s office and jail will certainly remedy that – and then some. The commencement of this project marks a historic step in the county’s evolution, one that will enhance the safety and protection of its residents for decades to come.