Van Zandt County Jail inmates have been transferred to neighboring counties after detention staff discovered inmates found a flaw in the high security locking systems within the facility — increasing the risk of escape, according to a county news release.
Detention staff Monday immediately contacted private contractors responsible for the design and installation of the locks.
Following an inspection, it was determined that although the locks were functioning as designed, an engineering flaw existed with the mechanisms, enabling a simple process to defeat lock security.
This issue affected confinement cells in high-security sections as well as ingress and egress access to the building.
State and county officials were immediately notified, and an emergency plan was activated.
Of the 161 inmates, 90 were taken to the Henderson County Jail and 35 to the Kaufman County Jail. The remaining female inmates were taken to the Upshur County Jail for the safety and security of the inmates and jail staff.
Sheriff Michael Lindsey Ray stated, “Because of the vigilance of the Van Zandt County detention staff, a very serious situation was discovered and dealt with expeditiously and appropriately. Because there are many very dangerous inmates currently confined in our county jail, the alertness of jail staff most certainly prevented a very dangerous situation from becoming a potentially deadly situation.”
The company responsible for the locking systems is preparing replacement parts for shipping, and it is expected to take up to two weeks for contractors to replace the internal components of the defective locks.
The Van Zandt County Sheriff’s Office spends about $20 per day to house each inmate in the 196-bed institution, built in 1992.
The cost to outsource an inmate, out of county, is $30 per day. Ray said, “Obviously we want to get this problem corrected as quickly as possible because of the high cost of outsourcing such a large portion of the inmate population. However; my No. 1 priority is the safety and security of our community.
“We will begin returning the inmates to the jail as soon as we determine that the risk of escape has been mitigated.”
I am truly grateful to Henderson County Sheriff Ray Nutt, Kaufman County Sheriff David Byrnes and Upshur County Sheriff Anthony Betterton for assisting my office on such short notice in proactively dealing with this very serious issue.
“It is so good to have Sheriffs in our neighboring and nearby counties who are such good neighbors to our community in time of such urgent need.”