Dallas County Considers Spending Big on New Jail

Dallas County Jail | Image by Jacque Manaugh/Shutterstock
Dallas County Jail | Image by Jacque Manaugh/Shutterstock

An advisory committee in Dallas County has issued a report concerning the Lew Sterrett Justice Center that recommends spending $5 billion of taxpayer money on a new jail and courthouse complex.

County commissioners have shown a strong inclination to consider the panel’s recommendation, although no formal vote has yet been taken. The advisory panel also suggested exploring lucrative sale and lease options for the existing complex on North Riverfront Boulevard. Once deemed undesirable, this area has transformed into a prime location with proximity to downtown, potentially offsetting some of the new project’s costs.

The Jail Facilities Advisory Committee (JFAC) highlighted the current facility’s extensive deficiencies at a meeting of the Facilities Management Committee, stressing the need for a new build rather than attempting to renovate the current aging buildings, per an editorial by The Dallas Morning News.

“Our county jail is more than 40 years old. It’s coming to a time where it needs to be considered for remodeling or some changes,” said Dallas County Commissioner Elba Garcia, according to NBC 5 DFW. The committee further advised that the average lifecycle for a jail is 50 years.

The cost of the new facility could surpass $5 billion.

“It’s going to be a big ticket item. There’s no way around that. The jail that we have now is paid for. It will be obsolete in a few years, but it’s paid for. But you can’t turn around and sell your jail for money,” said County Judge Clay Jenkins, per NBC 5.

The advisory panel underscored the inadequacy of the current facilities, which fall significantly short of industry best practices. The existing jail buildings, including the deteriorating West Tower and intake facility, provide only half of the necessary 3.3 million square feet required for efficient operation. This space shortfall is particularly problematic given the increasing number of inmates with mental health needs, a growing segment of the jail population, per DMN.

Brad Sassatelli, senior vice president of CGL Companies, told the county commissioners about the situation’s urgency, stating, “The outdated design and disrepair of the current complex severely hinder our ability to manage and rehabilitate inmates effectively. A new, modern facility is not just a preference; it’s a necessity.”

The recent JFAC meeting focused on seven different subject matter points to summarize the jail and courthouse’s needs and community feedback on potential renovation plans. CGL concluded that the jail was inefficient to operate, with a “layout reflective of a 1940s-1960s correctional philosophy” and weak “separation” standards for women and children.

Sassatelli further detailed the difficult layout of the north tower, which makes it complicated to perform cell checks.

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