Featured photo (above): The current Travis County Correctional Complex in Del Valle houses female detainees in three separate buildings, something the county wants to fix by developing a new women’s jailing building with centralized services. At right is the sheriff’s office. Image: Bing
By Edmond Ortiz
Austin (Travis County)–Travis County is negotiating with HDR Architecture to begin design work on a new women’s jail facility, a $79 million project that would provide 350 beds.
Commissioners Court voted Dec. 10 to authorize the county purchasing agent to start contract negotiations with the Omaha, Nebraska-based firm. The county has sought for years to develop a separate women’s facility at the jail complex.
Right now, women are detained in a three separate structures in the 30-year old correctional complex in Del Valle and have a hard time getting to diversion programs, classrooms and medical treatments that are housed in different buildings. Women confined in the current jail must walk through male facilities in order to access those programs.
County officials and consultants have determined the current women’s facilities too run down to renovate. The estimated $79 million project price tag includes $6.6 million for design work.
HDR will help the county to determine the scope of work. Money for design and construction will come from certificates of obligation. VBX members may track this project using ID number: 2018-1FE5.
Beginning in 2016, a consortium of consultants – Broadus & Associates, CGL Companies and RicciGreene Associates – developed an adult correctional system needs analysis that helped to form a $616 million master plan for long-range improvements to the county’s overall incarceration facilities.
The plan recommended Phase I development at the correctional complex include design and construction “of a mission-specific, self-contained women’s facility,” according to the briefing given to commissioners court.
The new facility will provide a mix of housing units and bed types aligned with current forecast need, “including a robust continuum of mental health housing, gender-specific medical services and dedicated programming spaces,” the agenda item stated.
The long-range master plan also calls for a new downtown central booking building, a new men’s jail complex by 2040, a training academy and a health care services facility.
In their Dec. 10 meeting, commissioners saw a presentation that showed women’s bookings at the current correctional have decreased 23%, a drop attributed to available diversion programs and the existence of a center where intoxicated people can safely stay and sober up without the risk of being charged with public intoxication.
The current female jail population stands at about 250. Some criminal justice reform activists have pushed for more diversion programs in lieu of spending money on a new facility.
However, because of an increasing population and other reasons, Travis County’s correctional system should be prepared to properly house 250-350 women, on average, in a centralized, modern facility into the future, county officials have said.
Roger Jefferies, the county’s justice and public safety executive, wrote the following in a November memo to commissioners court: “If county diversion efforts, economic and geographic trends, and local law enforcement practices continue, with no change in justice legislation at the state or national level, staff can expect a generally steady jail population into the future despite a growing county population.
Travis County will hire a consultant to support the jail design work and the planned programming there by early February.