County Commissioners Debate Inmate Housing Policy

By Greg Ritchie

Messenger Reporter

HOUSTON COUNTY – The Houston County Commissioners met Tuesday, Nov. 14 to discuss agreements with neighboring counties to house their jail inmates and discuss reappointing the current Fire Marshall. 

Houston County Judge Jim Lovell began the meeting by lamenting the recent death of Officer Jovian Motley at the Wainwright Prison Unit and called for prayers for Motley’s family. Justice of the Peace Precinct One Mike McCreight was in attendance and confirmed he had been called to the prison to perform the inquest. Houston County Sheriff Randy Hargrove said his office had not yet been called in to assist with any investigations but were standing by to assist. 

The commissioners approved a request to auction salvage equipment in the county’s possession, with Houston County Auditor Melissa Jeter telling the court many items were unused and unusable, such as broken chairs. She said the county has a good history of selling the items which have piled up – the list stood at nine pages, single spaced. 

The court took up the matter of Houston County Fire Marshall Heath Murff and unanimously thanked him and praised him for his work, nominating him to another term in the position. 

Houston County Judge Jim Lovell swears in Fire Marshall Heath Murff for another term. (Courtesy Jan Pigford)

“I want to thank you for the opportunity to serve this county,” Murff told the court. “I hope I am doing a good job.”

The county will soon be updating its contracts with surrounding counties to house their inmates, with Sheriff Hargrove asking the court for guidance on pricing for these contracts. Hargrove confirmed the county is neither losing nor making money on the contracts and told the court the other counties cover any of their inmates’ health issues or anything not included in a normal jail stay. 

The commissioners noted the rising costs of all goods and services and asked Hargrove if the county could renegotiate the $35/day per inmate the county currently receives. Hargrove confirmed he could, and the commissioners debated upping the daily per-inmate charge to $75 per day to cover the cost of running the county jail. Commissioner Gary Lovell asked if raising the cost by so much might lead to the counties looking elsewhere to house their inmates, leading to the Houston County Jail having, “more guards than inmates.” He proposed $65 per day. 

Commissioner Gene Stokes remarked, “Unfortunately, there is no shortage of criminals,” and the commissioners agreed to raise the per-day price to $75. Hargrove agreed to negotiate the new rate, telling the court he was sure there would be “no lack of ‘customers’.”

In other business the court approved:

  • Selling the tractor recently stolen and recovered, as reported recently in The Messenger 
  • Hiring a part-time clerk for Justice of the Peace Precinct One 
  • A request to the Houston County Human Resources Committee to clarify “part time” as regards county employees and any benefits they may be entitled to
  • Selling a tractor and boom mover to the City of Grapeland
  • A cell phone use policy for county employees, a requirement to receive certain government grants

Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]

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