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Public to get a peek at the pokey

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    Kendall County Sheriff Al Auxier stands in one of the new jail “pods” contained inside of a massive building that will open to prisoners in December. Star photo by Elena Tucker

On Nov.13 from 2-5 in afternoon, area residents are invited to an open house that will allow them to tour the new Kendall County Law Enforcement Center that has cost over 25.5 million dollars to build.

Sheriff Al Auxier is excited about the facility and what it represents. Where the old sheriff’s department staff was wedged into 3-4,000 square feet of administrative office area, the new building provides 18,000 square feet. Where the old jail housed inmates in something like 8,000 square feet of cells, the new jail encompasses 33,000 square feet.

Although the sheriff and most of his personnel moved into their offices about two months ago, the open house will precede any such move by jail staff and prisoners. “I want the public to see how their tax dollars have been spent,” Auxier said.

The east side of the county’s mammoth new building houses all non-incarceration facilities – such as a private juvenile room – while also reserving space for the future. For example, offices for 10 investigators are set aside although the law enforcement center currently employs only six investigators. As well, the building will house State Troopers, and possibly, at some point in time, Texas Rangers as well.

The jail portion of the new structure stands in blunt contrast with the old jail...and not just in size. According to Auxier, Kendall County’s soon-to-be-vacated jail is one of the oldest jails in Texas – it still employs steel bars. To walk through it is to experience a dim and dingy claustrophobia representing years of institutionalization. Auxier believes that prisoners – not to mention his staff – deserve better.

“Keep in mind, this is a jail, not a prison,” Auxier said. “This is a holding facility.”

“We have bad people in here,” Auxier conceded, “But we also have good people in here. This is not a prison. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a necessary evil that you have to have a place to confine people when they make stupid decisions. But for the most part, there’s good people here.”

As he spoke with the Boerne Star and wandered the gloomy warren of the old jail, Auxier pointed to outdated features, such as the dysfunctionality of the booking area where the judge had to perch on a seat “in the middle of the room,” the lack of a meeting area for religious or educational gatherings, and poor visitational and client/ lawyer accommodations.

The new jail will allow for videoconferencing so that legal matters are handled more quickly, more privately, and more conveniently. Spacious and functional meeting rooms are available for groups of women and groups of men. The latest in technology will be available in a variety of applications, inmates will be housed in communal “pods,” and one room will even provide air-flow isolation in cases of highly-contagious illness.

On the day of this interview, as Auxier led the way through both the old and new jails, he was responsible with the safe incarceration of 79 prisoners. However, only 49 of those men and women were under his immediate care; because of space constraints, Kerr County was being paid to house the remainder.

Beginning in December, Kendall County will have room for 100 prisoners, with expansion space available for 50 more, if and when such need arises. Kendall County is not alone. Auxier said that with state growth, jail-building has been growing as well. “Right now there seem to be a lot of jails being constructed or just opening,” the sheriff said.

In many ways, though, the new jail represents a new contextual era for Kendall County prisoners. Auxier brings up the subject of a prisoner, he recently met - “a kid who found his relief doing drugs who ended up using heroin. I talked to this kid yesterday,” Auxier said. “He’s a good kid. He made some poor, poor choices that are going to last him a lifetime. But he’s not a bad, evil person - he’s salvageable. He could be a contributing member to this community.”

Auxier wants the jail to not only be a place where “bad” law-breakers are isolated from society, but also place where the needs of certain others are met. “They’re human, not animals,” Auxier said. “These people are part of our community. They go to HEB, they go to Walmart, they go to the convenience store, they buy gas.”

The new high-end, high-price facility, according to Auxier, is, in the end, a reflection of what the sheriff calls “a different concept, different operations, and a different philosophy.”

The Kendall County Law Enforcement Center is located at 6 Staudt St. For more information about the open house, call 830-249-9721