For just the third time in its 40-year history, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards Thursday shut down a jail, voting to close the Frio County lockup after it repeatedly failed to meet state standards.
The 5-3 vote came after commissioners were told that the jail in Pearsall, southwest of San Antonio, has failed four inspections since 2013. The jail — which on Thursday housed two inmates — is to be emptied by the end of the month, and people arrested in Frio County will be taken to other counties for detention.
"How many chances do we give them?" asked Commissioner Gary Painter, who is also the Midland County sheriff. Vice Chairman Stanley Egger said he believed it was time to apply some "hammer" so that the violations won't recur.
In 2011, private jail vendor Geo Group returned management of what was once a 391-bed jail to the Frio County Sheriff's Office. The county reclassified the facility as a smaller "lockup" that would keep those arrested for no more than 72 hours before transferring them to adjacent county jails.
But in the years since the private contractor left, the Frio County Sheriff's Office has struggled to pass two annual and two special inspections.
Violations have included a lack of testing of generators, a non-working fire alarm control panel and, more recently, keeping inmates far longer than 72 hours. In some cases those inmates were being held 10 days and longer, according to Brandon Wood, the commission's executive director.
Frio County officials who attended the meeting, including Sheriff Lionel Trevino, said they intend to seek a new private contractor. But the order shutting down the jail would have to be lifted first at the November commission meeting before any private vendor could be hired.
Trevino said his office has worked to get inmates transferred more quickly and acknowledged his office had violated jail standards. "We have held them longer than the 72-hours," he said. Trevino and the other Frio County officials left the meeting quickly after the vote.
A call for comment made to Trevino was not immediately returned.
The commission, which regulates the 244 county jails in Texas, was established in 1975. Since then the commission has shut down two other jails, in Calhoun and Howard counties. Both jails later came back into compliance. There are 18 counties in Texas without jails because of their small populations.