By Lindsay Starr Platt, The Belton Journal
Belton residents and dignitaries had a chance to visit the Bell County Central Jail in Belton on Friday morning for a tour and the debut of its renovations and face lift.
Sheriff Eddy Lange led visitors on a tour of the jail, speaking about the new upgrades of the locking mechanisms, advanced electronic monitoring and updated security features that have all been installed since 2009, when the jail was emptied of inmates.
The tour given on Friday, was the only time the facility will host a public tour of the jail, as it is expected to fill with inmates soon.
“Ever since the jail opened on the Loop (121), it has been full ever since,” commented Sheriff Lange. “That makes it difficult for the maintenance personnel to move around and perform up-keeps.”
One problem with the only jail being at the loop was the compliance with PREA. PREA stands for the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which, under Federal law, says inmates 17 and under need to be kept away from the adult population. Until now in Bell County, the juveniles were housed at the Loop Jail, and employees had to scramble to find places for the minors to stay. With the reopening of the Central Jail, lease space for PREAs will also be available for other counties to rent and will help bring revenue to the county.
Many employees had the chance to bid on jobs at the Central Jail. Employees that once worked in the building before it was closed were excited to be back at a facility they put many hours working in.
“I’m back and excited! This is where I started,” said Sgt. J. Thomas, Bell County employee. “I’m glad it is open again. I’m back at it again.”
Central Jail is the fifth of six jails built in Bell County, dating from a log cabin to the gothic jail. This jail was built in 1987 for $18 million and lasted 20 years. With the new renovations it is expected to last another 20 years or more.
During the time it was closed, the Central Jail collected $30 million by leasing out space, which earned revenue for the county and saved the taxpayers money.
The initial plan was to renovate this building and reopen it in two years. Now, six years later, $7 million in improvements and one renovation later, it is ready and has a complete re-do. The current capacity for Central Jail is 523 inmates, with a 585 inmate capacity at Loop Jail for a total of about 1,100. Currently, there are 700 inmates in Bell County, and that has seemed to have been the level for several years.
“We have enough space to last us 20 years,” said Lange. “We are going to move the inmates from the annex over here to be housed. I’m glad we have this facility open to protect the general public.”
During the public tour, a few children accompanied their parents to check out the inside of a jail and to see what it was all about.
“I wanted my kids to see what it was like in here and to see what goes on,” said Belton resident Juan Hernandez.
For more information on Central Jail, visit www.bellcountytx.com/county_government/sheriff/bell_county_jail.php.