Nearly 175 Items Cut From Local Jail’s Commissary List

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MCLENNAN COUNTY (May 19th, 2013)--Since January, the McLennan County Jail on Highway 6 has seen a facelift or two.

Shortly after newly elected Sheriff Parnell McNamara was sworn in, he ordered 47 microwaves to be removed from the jail, a convenience that’s been available to inmates for nearly 22 years.

Microwaves were first made available to inmates in dayrooms in the early 1990s in the downtown jail.

The Highway 6 jail uses dormitory cells, each of which houses 24 inmates and each of which had a microwave that inmates shared.

Fourteen days after he was sworn in, Sheriff Parnell McNamara decided that the microwaves did more harm than good.

"First off, it was a safety issue. Secondly, the microwaves are a luxury that I don't think inmates deserve out there," Sheriff McNamara said in January.

When the microwaves were nuked, McNamara had the jail's commissary list re-evaluated.

The commissary list is a menu that contains food items, drinks, and hygiene materials that are available for inmates to purchase.

The list was the center of a complaint made by Ken Witt, a jailer, in September of 2012.

"There are some major safety problems we're selling with this commissary. For instance, we should be handing them a razor blade to let them shave, then turn around and take it back," Witt said.

"I mean they're allowed to buy disposable razors, you can pop the blade right out of that with no problem at all."

Jail administrator John Kolinek and jail staff have spent the majority of this year reconstructing a new commissary list.

"If there's an issue that comes up with the commissary from a staff standpoint we haven't thought about or looked at, then it's not to say we won't look at it and remove more items from our commissary list," Kolinek said.

The old list contained a total of 482 items. A new list was implemented last month and now has 311.

Out of the 171 items cut, the most notable were microwavable food items and disposable razors.

"Safety and security in this facility is in constant review, so that was something we looked at in regards to removing the razors," Kolinek said.

This is the first time any jail staff helped create or evaluate a commissary list.

Kolinek says that’s something he’s proud of, and that more collaboration will help the jail in the long run.

“I feel confident with the completed list today,” Kolinek said.

“But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to re-evaluate this list in the future and remove more items.”

The current commissary list is just over a page long. Kolinek says he hopes to get the commissary whittled down to one page in the coming months.