Harwell file

The Jack Harwell Detention Center passed an inspection by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards last month after three failed inspections.

As LaSalle Corrections prepares to relinquish control of the Jack Harwell Detention Center to the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office, the jail has passed its first state inspection since August last year.

During a surprise inspection late last month, Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspectors found the jail was in compliance with minimum safety standards, according to a letter the commission sent to county officials. The jail would have been forced to reduce its inmate population if it had failed the most recent inspection because of a remedial order the commission issued in response to three failures in a seven-month stretch.

“I am glad they are in compliance, and it will make the transition easier if they are in compliance rather than when they are not,” Sheriff Parnell McNamara said. “I think it is going to be a good thing and I think we will be able to manage both jails successful to make every effort to see that Jack Harwell as well as our jail is always in compliance.”

The McLennan County Sheriff’s Office will take control of the Harwell jail Oct. 1 after LaSalle agreed to the transfer last month. The county built the 1,162-bed jail adjacent to the McLennan County Jail in 2010 and has hired private for-profit companies to run it since it opened.

Capt. Ricky Armstrong, county jail administrator, will oversee the transition to county operation of the jail and efforts to hire about 100 people needed to staff the facility.

“We are glad to see that JHDC (Jack Harwell Detention Center) operated by LaSalle is back in compliance,” Armstrong said. “Now we can focus our attention on working together for a smooth transition in October.”

On Friday, Harwell housed 700 inmates, including 335 McLennan County inmates, while McLennan County Jail housed 759. LaSalle officials did not comment on the passed inspection or about moving forward with the transition with McLennan County.

In the past three failed inspections for Harwell, officials identified various areas of noncompliance, including failure to use proper inmate identification procedures, failure to maintain the minimum ratio of one jailer to 48 inmates, inappropriate mental health screenings and failure to conduct visual checks of inmates at required intervals.

Commission on Jail Standards Executive Director Brandon Wood said because the jail passed the latesd inspection, the commission will not enforce the remedial order, which could have required the jail to reduce its population by 48 inmates.

Wood said the facility is still subject to unannounced inspections before LaSalle gives up control in October. He said the jail is still listed as an “at risk” facility because of the recent failures. The state is required to inspect jails once a year for compliance, but “at risk” jails often get more inspections, he said.

“If we get information that indicates that they aren’t meeting minimum standards, that would be a reason to have another inspection,” Wood said. “They will still be considered ‘at risk’ because they have failed a number of inspections in that time period for our records.”

Once McLennan County is operating both jails, the state will consider them a “system,” Wood said. If one jail fails an inspection, it will affect the record of the system, not just the individual facility, he said.

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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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