Pictured above is the Smith County Jail built in 1881 by Houston Architect Eugene T. Heiner and builder Henry Kane, which served as Smith County's fourth jail. In 1894 a second-story was added which doubled the Jail's cell space. The building was replaced by a new jail in 1916 and this structure subsequently housed the Lewis Hotel until 1986.
Smith County currently has three facilities used to house inmates. The central jail was constructed in 1986 with 106,000 sq. ft. and a capacity of 276 inmates. The Low Risk Facility was constructed in 1989 with a medium risk addition in 1994. This facility will accommodate 432 inmates. The county also houses 47 trusty inmates on the 5th floor of the Smith County Courthouse. The three facilities provide the county with a maximum capacity of 755 inmates.
In 2004, Smith County was issued a remedial order by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards for overcrowded conditions in the Smith County Jail. In 2009, the county's average inmate population was 855. Inmates in excess of county's capacity of 755 are transferred to other counties in order to comply with the remedial order. Inmate transfer costs for FY11 are budgeted at approximately $2.3 million. A compounded estimated reduction in transfer costs is attributed to the success of the Alternative Incarceration Program that began in FY07 and expanded in FY08.
The Alternative Incarceration Program was a proposal that was presented as a pilot program in the FY07 Budget to help reduce the jail overcrowding problem. The program consists of a day reporting center which would focus on offenders who would not otherwise have been placed on probation. These offenders may be admitted into the Alternative Incarceration Center if they acknowledged their guilt and pled guilty, are evaluated by the program screening officer to be appropriate for entry into the program, are approved by the District Attorney's office for entry, and are approved by the assigned judge to be placed on a special probation with assignment to the day reporting center program.
The program goal is to reduce the Smith County jail population, protect the public by intensive supervision through a day reporting program, provide extraordinary efforts to place these offenders into paying jobs, promote public safety by special rehabilitation services to these offenders, and enhance the reintegration of reformed offenders back into society.
The FY11 Adopted Budget includes funding to continue the program but has been reduced by $230,000 fron FY10. The reduced funding will not allow for additional participants but protects the integrity of the program in reducing the jail population.
To address the overcrowding issue in the present jail facilities, Smith County officials have considered various avenues of alleviating the overcrowding issues and high costs of inmate transfers. in May 2006, Smith County voters were presented with two proposals to construct a new sheriff and jail facility. Proposition 1 was for the issuance of $83 million in bonds for the construction of a new jail in downtown Tyler. Proposition 2 was for the issuance of $75 million in bonds for the construction of a new jail in a remote site outside of downtown Tyler. Both propositions were defeated.
Upon defeat, the Commissioners Court assembled a Smith County Buildings Task Force, made up of community leaders, concerned citizens, attorneys, and two commissioners, to study the failed bond election and assist the Commissions Court with recommendations for future planning of buildings projects. The Smith County Commissioners called a bond election for November 6, 2007 to ask for voter approval of a $125 million bond package to provide the necessary funding for the prpose of constructing, acquiring, renovating, improving, expanding, and equipping the Smith County Jail/Justice Project located in downtown Tyler. This bond was also defeated.
After the defeat of this bond referendum, a smaller group of leaders began meeting to present a scaled down version for voter consideration. On November 4, 2008, Smith County voters considered a $59.6 million bond proposal for the Smith County Jail Expansion/Remodeling Project. Again, this referendum failed to receive voter approval.
The jail overcrowding issue has been a long running issue in Smith County but the voters passed an approximate $33 million expansion package in 2011. Construction began.