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Even though the inmate population remains below capacity right now, Houston County Sheriff’s Office leaders have pitched the idea of building two more pods to the county jail.

Department leaders met with Houston County Commissioners Monday to discuss future major requests as commissioners begin forming the 2020 fiscal year budget. Houston County Sheriff Donald Valenza and HCSO Maj. Bill Rafferty said that while today’s census remains slightly lower than the jail’s capacity, the increase in inmates who have or potentially have mental health issues skews the numbers.

“You can’t put those inmates in general population. The county will get tired of paying out (for) the risk,” Rafferty said. “We have to separate them.”

Valenza said when the current Houston County Jail was built about 15 years ago, mental health issues were not as much of an issue for local law enforcement officials. Several state mental hospitals have closed since then, and county jails have increasingly housed more people charged with crimes who may need specialized mental health treatment.

“Some of them we don’t even know (of the issues) until something happens because they haven’t been declared (unwell) by anybody,” Valenza said.

The current jail lacks a padded room, which could keep inmates with mental health issues from harming themselves. That would be included in the new pods, which can house 24 to 30 people each, Rafferty said.

While Rafferty did not immediately know the construction costs of two new pods, Valenza said the jail was constructed in way that allows pods to be added easily.

The jail can house 397 inmates and briefly surpassed that number a few weeks ago, Rafferty said. The jail population Monday was about 350, he said.

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