Commission to hear proposal on jail

Published 10:55 pm Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Dallas County Commission is eager to know the cost of moving from patchwork repair of the jail’s electrical system to a full overhaul.

A proposal scheduled during the commission’s meeting today will determine exactly how much money is needed to get the jail’s control system updated and fully operational.

The jail completely lost power on Memorial Day weekend because inmates had been shorting the system, primarily to light cigarettes.

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Inmates took the cover off the call button, shorted the wires and created sparks, causing gradual damage to the entire system.

Emergency repairs of $10,000 were done, and an estimated $15,000 to $20,000 is needed additionally to install a completely automatic system. The jail also needs a new $50,000 control panel.

All of that cost may not fall on the county, however.

“The only silver lining in the cloud is some of that damage may have been caused by power surges and lightning strikes,” Probate Judge Kim Ballard said. “Because of that, there may be some recovery on insurance.”

It took four days to get the system back up when power went out, and there have been more minor incidents since then, Ballard said.

The problem has been ongoing for several years.

In addition to the stifling heat caused by a lack of air conditioning, guards could not open and shut doors, the jail was completely dark and toilets clogged because the jail uses a power flushing system.

The jail is budgeted for $150 in repairs annually, something Ballard said the commission would address during discussions for the next budget year that begins in October.