Jack Harwell file

Jack Harwell Detention Center and the adjacent McLennan County Jail passed Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspections last week.

Jack Harwell Detention Center has passed its first inspection since the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office took it over from a private operator.

Teas Commission on Jail Standards inspectors looking at operations and safety codes found no deficiencies in the detention center on Marlin Highway or the adjacent McLennan County Jail in and unannounced inspection last week.

Both jails are considered one facility since the county took control of the Harwell operation from the for-profit LaSalle Corrections in October. County officials have estimated that they could save at least $1 million per year with the takeover.

“I do not think you can find a better jail staff anywhere in the state of Texas, or the country, than right here,” Sheriff Parnell McNamara said. “The entire command staff and the rank-and-file staff are doing such a remarkable job to turn that facility around in less than four months.”

TCJS Inspector William Phariss sent an emailed letter to McNamara and jail operator Maj. Ricky Armstrong late Tuesday, formally notifying the sheriff’s office on the inspection report. Phariss noted in the report that he observed both jails had been refurbished to include fresh painting and a general cleanliness throughout both jails.

McLennan County Jail has passed every TCJS inspection since the early 2000s, records state. Armstrong said he was surprised that the inspector arrived so soon after the Harwell takeover.

“We normally have our jail inspection between March and May and they showed up in January, which was 3 1/2 months after we moved in,” Armstrong said. “It was really a surprise and awfully quick, but we passed with flying colors and I am really ecstatic with the way the staff performed and pulled this facility together.”

The Harwell jail is connected to the McLennan County Jail by a shared kitchen facility. Harwell was previously operated by private, for-profit companies including LaSalle since the county built it with proceeds from a $49 million bond package issued in 2009.

Inmate totals for both jails was at 1,209 inmates Wednesday. McLennan County Jail housed 718 inmates with eight federal inmates while Harwell had 487 inmates with 212 federal inmates, jail records stated.

McLennan County commissioners started formally discussing the transition to county operation about two years ago. LaSalle Corrections agreed last year to let its $8 million contract expire, allowing McLennan County Jail and Harwell to be operated by McLennan County.

LaSalle had failed three of its last inspections, resulting in the jail commission to place a remedial order against the facility in May. The former operator was cited for failure to keep a minimum ratio of jailers to inmates, failure to conduct visual checks and failure to have proper identification procedures for inmates.

LaSalle passed its follow-up inspection in the following month, but later agreed to forgo its contract with the county. McNamara said he was pleased with the job county employees have accomplished in a short time span and credited both jails for their dedication.

“The (Harwell) facility is run more efficiently and I can’t tell you how proud I am,” the sheriff said. “It is hard to believe they have come this far in this short period of time and our goal is to pass every jail inspection in the future.”

Kristin Hoppa has been covering public safety and breaking news for the Tribune-Herald since January 2016. She worked in Northwest Missouri covering crime-related issues before her move to Central Texas. She is a University of Kansas graduate.

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