Dallas County's new one-site justice center

Computer-monitored and electrically operated doors, locks, single-man cells, flame-resistant, bulletproof glass, steel, concertina-barbed wire, and concrete - ''all of the necessities'' to handle 900 inmates at the outset and up to 4,000 by the year 2000 - leave no doubt that this place is a jail.

But the new correctional facility opened here in April is more than just a jail.

The Dallas County Sheriff's Department is running a one-site criminal justice center. The court, a district attorney's office, bailbondsman, county and city police, lawyers' offices, as well as the jail itself are all housed in a single, connected complex.

The structure is the culmination of planning begun in 1977, when a court order to correct substandard conditions in the county's four jails was issued. Dallas has incorporated state-of-the-art thinking in the design of its new $55, 000 per-bed facility, say correctional professionals around the country.

''First off, if someone doesn't have to be locked up with us, we try to keep them out of the system right at the start,'' says Maj. Robert Knowles, detention division commander. ''That's one of our first priorities and a multipurpose booking area lets us do this.''

The complex simplifies logistics as well.

''Last year we transported 103,000 people back and forth within the county jail system, enough to fill up the Rose Bowl,'' says Major Knowles. ''We want to get completely out of this since it costs us over $3 million a year in transportation costs alone. We even have a 60-bed infirmary on the premises. With everything planned for one place, we can do this.''

Staff development was central in planning for the new jail. In the five years prior to 1981 the Sheriff's department hired 410 officers for corrections. ''Our turnover in three years was around 400. They were licensed as deputies and the (fast growing) suburbs could just hire them away from us. Since it costs us $15, 000 to hire and train a deputy, we were losing a lot of money,'' Knowles says.

To stem this loss, the department created a new position called a detention service officer. The pay is the same as a deputy sheriff but the license is now good for only corrections, not law enforcement work. Turnover has been greatly reduced and it is hoped an older, more mature officer to staff the jail.

Special emphasis is given to the intake officer. Screening a new inmate is as much an art as a science, says Knowles, and missing the fact that someone is an addict, or a potential suicide at the outset can ''really throw your control for a loss back in the units.''

All of the personnel in the classification department are required to have college degrees in areas related to criminal justice. Thirty-two separate categories for classifying an inmate were computerized. The information is entered into an on-site computer programmed to place an inmate in the most appropriate confinement.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Dallas County's new one-site justice center
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today