VAN ZANDT COUNTY — Local sheriffs said they are worried that faulty locks found inside the Van Zandt County Jail might be in other jails not only in the state but the country.
The plan to replace the locks is in place, but now, security staff at other East Texas jails is inspecting their own locks very closely.
Executive Director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards Brandon Wood said that as of now, the manufacturer does not seem to have that lock model in any other Texas jails, but they are still taking more time to confirm that, and see about locks in other states.
There’s much relief for the Canton community, now that 116 Van Zandt County Jail inmates, some of them dangerous convicts, have been removed from 66 cells with faulty locks.
Sheriff Lindsey Ray said the inmates had been working for a long time to figure out the locks, which were installed in the Van Zandt County Jail in 2010 as part of a renovation project.
Wood said there are about three main manufacturers that make lock systems for jails in the state, but the company that made the flawed locks was not one of them.
“The type of lock that was installed, although it is comparable according to the manufacturers specifications to locks that are typically seen in Texas county jails, this was the first time we’d seen this manufacturer in the state,” Wood said.
Wood said even though the company was new, the locks it made met state standards.
For security reasons, Ray requested not to reveal the lock manufacturer’s name. Keeping that information away from inmates could stop them from trying to manipulate similar locks.
However, the locks with the faulty pieces seem to only be in one batch of one specific model. It doesn’t look like the manufacturer has locks from that bad batch anywhere else.
“We do not believe that any of those locks are in any other county jails, however we have issued a technical assistance memorandum and notification to the sheriffs to conduct a walkthrough of their own facilities and determine if they have any of those locks,” Wood said.
As every jail in Texas investigates its own locking system, the manufacturer in question is looking into any locks it has installed in other states.
Wood confirmed that the Van Zandt County Jail already has had its annual state inspection this year.
“We do check locks,” Wood said. “The inspectors will walk through and make sure the locks are in good working order.”
However, they don’t check pieces within the lock to see if they can be broken into.
“That’s up to the manufacturer and the installer to see that they do have deadbolt locking mechanisms and that they cannot be manipulated,” Wood said.
Because they were able to be manipulated and were clearly faulty, Ray said he expected the manufacturer to reimburse the county for most of the fees being paid to outsource his inmates to other jails. Otherwise, the big bill has to be paid with taxpayer dollars.
Ray said Thursday he unfortunately expects costs to rise higher than the initially $52,000 estimated to outsource inmates for two weeks. That amount doesn’t include the transportation costs for transferring the inmates, which includes bus rentals, drivers and gas.
Plus, it might take a little longer than expected for inmates to return to Van Zandt County Jail cells. Before they return, the state has to come inspect and approve the new lock system. Wood said that could only take a day, if the request for review is submitted quickly. If not, they will need to wait on the inspection request.
Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said he is following Wednesday’s state mandate and is inspecting his jail’s lock system. So far, he had not found any issues as of Thursday.
He also said that once the new jail is built, there will be similar lock inspections before inmates are admitted there.