After discussing options for renovating or relocating the Bexar County Central Magistration (CMAG) facility on 401 S. Frio St., County commissioners voted Tuesday to draft a plan to move facility operations to the Bexar County jail complex.

The current Frio Street facility, which processes all arrests in the county that are Class B offenses or higher, is owned by the City. Operations are split between the City and County, with the City providing the detention staff.

Bexar County Judicial Services Director Mike Lozito and Facilities Manager Dan Curry told commissioners that the split responsibility causes City detention staff operations and policies to conflict with County-driven processes. This clash leads to “processing bottlenecks,” meaning the same assessments and screenings at the jail are performed more than once when arrestees are transferred over from the CMAG facility.

Challenges such as limited space at the facility, limited access to arrestees and their information, and the aforesaid duplication of functions reduces efficiency, they added.

“We currently have 15 sheriff staff positions in that location … and it’s a financial burden,” Curry said. “The City has also expressed a desire to get out of the ‘detention’ business. The building was built in the 1980s and hasn’t really been updated since. Moving individuals around the facility is quite cumbersome.”

County Commissioner Sergio “Chico” Rodriguez (Pct. 1) agreed that the CMAG building  is “very cramped” and that something must be done to streamline processes.

Bexar County Commissioner Sergio "Chico" Rodriguez (Pct. 1). File photo by Scott Ball.
Bexar County Commissioner Sergio “Chico” Rodriguez (Pct. 1). File photo by Scott Ball.

“In terms of fast identification, we found that many individuals were not ID’d until 10-12 hours into the process, which was the first responsibility of City detention officers,” Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau said. “Not only is (there a problem with) the facility and arrangement, but also the process by which individuals go through.”

There have been several efficiency assessments, Lozito said, and the negative results clearly show the need for change. More than half of CMAG intakes who are reprocessed at the jail create an additional estimated cost of more than $9 million, he added, and one-third of those reentered at the jail are released in less than 30 days without a sentence.

Curry presented commissioners with three options that would improve arrestee flow and help streamline the actual magistration process. The options were evaluated using three metrics: capital costs, staffing costs, and potential operational efficiencies.

Option #1:

  • Renovate existing location and have the County assume detention operations
  • Additional annual staffing costs: $4,469,390
  • Net additional capital costs: $0
  • Operational efficiency: Improves access to arrestees
  • Challenges: Existing space would limit a full “open booking layout”

Option #2:

  • Construct a stand-alone facility near the Adult Detention Center Facility operated by the County
  • Net additional capital costs: $3.5 million (does not include site acquisition)
  • Additional staffing costs: $4,469,390
  • Operational efficiencies: Improves access to arrestees for diversion, creates an “open booking” layout
  • Challenges: Would still require transport to the jail and duplicate booking operations would persist

Option #3:

  • Move Central Magistration operations to the jail campus by adding an extra floor to the planned south building tower unit; combine booking and intake functions
  • Net additional capital costs: $7.3 million
  • Additional staffing costs: $2,270,563
  • Operational efficiencies: Would create an “open booking” layout, improve access to arrestees for diversion, and eliminate transport to the jail as well as duplicate booking operations

Since the City owns the CMAG building, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, Curry, and Lozito all agreed that Option #1 is not the most viable.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff listens during the public hearing portion of Commissioner's Court. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff listens during the public hearing portion of Commissioner’s Court. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

“The City’s been talking about changes over there,” Wolff said. “I’m not sure how long they’ll be willing to offer a lease or an arrangement there.”

Commissioner Paul Elizondo (Pct. 2) considered Option #2, but then surmised that a stand-alone facility would still require transportation and related costs. Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) asked about staffing costs for all three options, but in the end, County commissioners agreed that Option #3 would be the most sensible and cost-efficient option.

“If we consider the current model where the City does detention services … if the sheriff’s office takes over, the labor costs are a lot higher,” Lozito told the Rivard Report. “It would also have us fall under the Texas Jail Commission Standards, and to comply is a high cost. If we consider Option #2, that would require buying land.”

Option #3 requires no additional land, Lozito said, and jail staff at the complex could also assist at the existing south unit building tower. The jail complex is undergoing major remodeling, he added, and a tower with added housing for inmates and a new sheriff’s office will be built.

“The new south tower at the end of the parking lot … Option #3 just adds a floor to that tower, so the cost would be a lot cheaper,” Lozito said. “It’s a better plan for the future, not putting money in a City building.”

“We fully support Option #3 and believe this will provide greater efficiency and it will also provide better processing as we bring people into the criminal justice system,” Pamerleau said. “The other thing I would suggest is rather than a percentage of the cost that the City shares, that we consider a fee-based service based on the number of people (who) are arrested and booked into jail.”

This is a process used by many other jurisdictions, she added. Lozito and Curry additionally recommended the creation of a CMAG operations director position, which would ensure maximum efficiency of the flow of arrestees and coordination between the other entities involved in the process.

Curry and his office will work step-by-step to draft a more detailed cost projection for the plan before it goes back to the commissioners for final approval.

Top image: Inmates await intake at the Bexar County Adult Detention Center.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

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