WACO (August 29, 2012)-It might come as a surprise--but some inmates at the McLennan County Jail can warm up an afternoon snack using a microwaves, if they live in a dormitory cell.
However, when inmates use those microwaves, it creates headaches for the McLennan County Maintenance Department.
"Basically microwaves were put in years ago and it's been a constant problem in the A and B wing of the McLennan County Jail on Hwy 6," Sam Sykora of the McLennan County Maintenance Department said.
The microwaves are the reason why the McLennan Maintenance Department asked for $85,000 dollars to be allocated in the county budget this year to re-wire an area of the jail.
The electrical wiring in the A and B wings of the local lockup can't handle the overload of electricity.
"It's causing a lot of man hours to go and reset breakers, not to mention it could start a fire," Sykora said.
But their request of $85,000 dollars was denied by County Commissioners and placed in purgatory AKA the county contingency fund.
"The question is should we have to pay for that wiring? I'll tell you right now I am not going to spend taxpayers money to have microwaves in the jail," County Commissioner Kelly Snell said.
So is the county lockup a hotel? Or is it a jail?
"We control prisoner movements, we control prisoner visits, we control their activities everyday," McLennan County Sheriff Larry Lynch said.
"They don't do what they want...it's a jail."
Microwaves were first used by inmates in the early 90's at the downtown county jail in Waco behind the McLennan County Courthouse. The microwaves were located in 'dayroom areas' outside prisoner cells.
Inmates are no longer housed in the downtown jail, but the microwave trend continues today at the McLennan County Jail located on Hwy 6.
"It's a dormitory setup, there's no individual cells in general population within our facility," McLennan County Jail Supervisor John Kolinek said.
"So if we have a dormitory cell that houses 24 inmates...then all of those inmates share that one microwave."
So we asked Sheriff Lynch the question on everyone's mind, "Why do inmates need microwaves?"
"Those microwaves are there for a purpose...just like the TV's, they help with the control of inmates," Sheriff Lynch said.
The microwaves within the jail aren't purchased with taxpayer's money. They're bought with money generated from the jail's commissary fund.
The proceeds from the sale of food, drinks, hygiene materials, books, and bibles to inmates--pay for the microwaves.
In the past 3 years, the McLennan County Jail's commissary fund has paid for $21,000 worth of microwaves for jail use.
"When you have 900 to 1200 inmates in a facility, and they spend their money buying these things, a lot of money is generated," Sheriff Lynch said.
"But that money doesn't go to the Sheriff's office, it goes to a discretionary fund so that we can buy things for the inmates...the money has to be used on the inmates."
According to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, having microwaves for inmates is OK as long as the inmates are supervised by a jailer.
But then there's safety issues. A microwave in a cell filled with 24 inmates does sound like a convenient way to cause trouble.
However, Jail Supervisor John Kolinek sees differently.
"I guess you could say that you could use them as a weapon, but it's like you said earlier they can take their shoe off and hit someone or throw it," Kolinek said.
Turning to a bigger stage, the county jail in Dallas does allow inmates to use microwaves.
Locally--the Bell County Jail doesn't.
For now, electrically re-wiring the A and B wings in McLennan County Jail isn't going to happen.
In the meantime, Sam Sykora and the Mclennan County Maintenance Department will continue to search for a solution.
"It's either one or two things now...either take the microwaves out or basically we're just going to have to keep re-setting breakers and buying new ones. Basically, just go from there."
A McLennan County Commissioner told News 10 that re-wiring the A and B wing of the jail will remain a dead issue until a new Sheriff takes office in January.
Whomever is elected, may or may not want microwaves in the jail.