WilCo Sheriff considers jail changes to keep out contraband

Policy changes to keep contraband out from the Williamson County Jail are under review by Sheriff Robert Chody. (CBS Austin)

Policy changes to keep contraband out from the Williamson County Jail are under review by Sheriff Robert Chody.

Earlier this month, inmate Gabriel Higdon, 22, was booked into the WilCo Jail for public intoxication. Court documents state a correctional officer overheard Higdon say he was “high as f***” and the scent of marijuana was detected.

Jail commander Edward Williams said an investigation lead to the discovery of Higdon eating peanut butter out of a bowl with marijuana in it. That warranted a strip search.

“They have to squat down and cough three times at which point the bag dislodged and landed on the floor,” said Williams.

Court documents state Hidgon had marijuana and 19 pills inside of him -- four were Clonazepam (an anti-anxiety drug) and 15 were indented as Lyrica (a prescription pain medication).

That’s contraband.

“Inmates are pretty creative,” said Sheriff Chody.

Just four months into his new job, Sheriff Chody says with north of 700 inmates at the jail, it’s not an easy task to thoroughly check each one as they come in.

He says contraband can range from drugs, weapons or just too much of something that is already at the jail. The most common contraband is alcohol made by inmates with rotten fruit -- what he called “hooch.”

Cmdr. Williams said only inmates charged with felony weapons possession or drug charges are given a strip search. Chody is now reviewing that policy.

“I think it’s enough to look at it and say, what could we have done better?” Said Chody.

And in addition to expanding the need for a strip searching inmates as they’re being booked and processed, the sheriff is considering an x-ray machine. Williams said it could come with a $30,000 price tag, but Chody emphasized the tool would be paid for with inmate commissary money, not tax payer funds.

Williams said under the law, the department can only use commissary funding for certain things that benefit the inmate. He mentioned they have enough profit margin from selling commissary items to pay for the x-ray machine today.

When asked why it was important to keep contraband from coming into the jail, Williams said many times inmates fight over whatever the item is. That could put the correctional officer in danger.

“It creates a serious safety issue,” said Williams.

“We always have to make sure we’re not getting complacent in our role as an officer who’s doing a search of an inmate,” said Chody.