Bexar County releases jail report commissioned by Trish DeBerry – San Antonio Express-News

SAN ANTONIO — Initially perceived as a bitter attempt to undermine Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, a report analyzing jail operations was received in good spirits by both he and Commissioners Court.

“It’s music to my ears,” Salazar said.

In October 2021, former Pct. 3 Commissioner Trish DeBerry requested a second consultant following a heated exchange with Salazar when he announced that he hired Belton-based Detain Inc. to make recommendations on jail operations. Salazar used $50,000 in seized asset forfeiture funds to pay for the contract.

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E. Keith Neely — who recently joined the Orange County Corrections Department in Florida — presented the report at a Commissioners Court meeting. Neely represents American Correctional Consultants, which Commissioners Court contracted for $20,000.

“I felt like he was being brought on by a certain person on the court as a hired gun,” Salazar said after Neely’s report was released. “So I saw fit to hire my own consultant to protect our interests and make sure that we were keeping honest people honest. As it turned out, both consultants reports were really pretty much in line.”

Neely identified many of the problems the sheriff has previously addressed, including an increased population brought on by a lack of beds at state or mental health facilities for inmates already sentenced by a judge.

Much of Neely’s presentation focused on improving morale for deputies, such as a pay raise that has since been implemented in this year’s collective bargaining agreement and a revamp of break rooms into a cafe-style space with internet access.

Salazar said the latter is doable but needs to be brought up during budget discussions. He said deputies did not have lunch breaks when he came on board as sheriff as a result of a previous collective bargaining agreement.

Both consultant reports, which focused on jail operations in November 2021, found that pay for deputies at the time was not competitive with the top counties in Texas.

Detain’s report showed that starting detention officers were making an average of 15 percent less than their counterparts in six large metropolitan counties in Texas as of November 2021. Even nearby counties like Comal, Atascosa and Kendall offered higher starting wages.

After the starting salary was bumped up to $43,908, Bexar County moved from 18th to 11th on the list of most competitive counties, according to Neely’s report. The top three were Lubbock, Ector and Tarrant counties, which all have a higher cost of living than Bexar County.

For morale, Neely recommended a performance award for courageous acts or new techniques that impact the agency. He also suggested bi-annual town hall meetings to promote discussion and engagement between the leadership team and staff.

County commissioners and Judge Nelson Wolff were pleased by the report and its recommendations and asked what Neely thought should be the top priority.

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They looked at projects in the works to help alleviate the population of more than 4,600 inmates, many of whom have already been sentenced to prison or rehabilitative programs.

Mike Lozito, director of the criminal justice department, said a new facility at the Applewhite Recovery Center focusing on substance abuse is opening in the spring with 50 beds and 60 beds for women will be added in 2024.

They also discussed potentially unfreezing additional civilian positions to lighten the load placed on sworn detention officers. Nineteen civilian positions were unfrozen this fiscal year.

Calvert spoke of bringing Neely back for an annual review.

“That would be helpful to keep sunlight on the improvements we need to have,” Calvert said.

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