Dispatch supervisor Lorri Williams shares a laugh with Chief Deputy Wayne Grueben at Saturday’s open house for the new Parmer County Jail. CNJ staff photo: Darrell Todd Maurina.
By Darrell Todd Maurina
FARWELL — They’ll only be moving a few dozen yards across a driveway, but deputies, dispatchers, and jail staff are ecstatic about their impending relocation to a brand new jail and sheriff’s department administration building, according to Chief Deputy Wayne Grueben of the Parmer County Sheriff’s Office.
Grueben and other deputies gave guided tours Saturday afternoon of the new 48-bed, $3 million jail to members of the community.
Grueben and dispatchers said the difference between the state-of-the-art new facility and the existing jail, built in 1973 but using parts from an earlier jail built behind the old courthouse in 1916, will be dramatic.
The existing 18-bed jail has a number of waivers from the Texas Department of Corrections allowing it to continue operations, but Sheriff Randy Geries said the failure to meet required standards raises legal liability concerns.
“Over there right now, one of our big problems is security,” Gruben said. “The three main things that will help the most are the sally port, visitation, and recreation yard.”
The sally port is an entirely new feature not found in the current jail. Until now, handcuffed detainees have been taken from police cars into the main reception area, creating a final opportunity for people arrested to try to break free before being taken into the jail building. With the sally port, police cars drive into an area resembling a garage and the doors come down behind the police car before the detainee ever leaves the car.
Family visitation has undergone a similar improvement. With the current system, visitors must be brought into the jail itself or inmates brought out of the secure portion of the jail into an unsecured reception area. The new system provides a secure room in which inmates sit on one side of a glass window and talk through a telephone to their visitors. Except for conversations with attorneys, all inmate conversations are recorded.
Gruben said jail designers found a creative solution to a state requirement that inmates receive at least three hours of fresh air and exercise per week. The existing jail has a traditional fenced yard. The new jail has an 800-square-foot inside room with a ventilation shaft that lets in outside air high above the floor.
“Over here, they’ll never have to go outside,” Gruben said. “The state says we have to give them fresh air, and unless it’s freezing cold, we’ll give them fresh air through the vent.”
While those are the biggest improvements, other changes will make life easier for staff. New jailers are being hired so dispatchers won’t have to serve dual duty as jailers, and the new dispatch control room will allow dispatchers to monitor all parts of the jail with 14 cameras and also open and close cells with the touch of a control button and no firsthand contact with inmates.
The jail will be able to handle handicapped inmates and comply with state regulations requiring that male inmates be separated by sight and sound from female inmates. Other changes comply with state rules that Parmer County hasn’t had the space to follow for years.
“Our laundry at the current facility is right in with the kitchen, and we get in trouble for that every year with the state inspector,” Gruben said. “We’ve got a state-of-the-art kitchen and a full-time cook in our new building.”
Geries said he expects to transfer inmates to the new jail within two weeks.
“After we get all our equipment moved over we will do it,” Geries said. “Our jail is more secure and will be a much better place to work.”