New Sheriff Nukes Inmate Microwaves; Dozens Removed From County Jail

By: Matt Howerton Email
By: Matt Howerton Email
A newly elected Central Texas sheriff made good Monday on his promise to remove nearly 50 microwaves that were available to county jail inmates, but caused ongoing electrical problems.

Authorities removed 47 microwaves Monday from the McLennan County Jail. (Photo by Ben Griffin)

WACO (January 14, 2013)-Authorities removed 47 microwaves Monday from the McLennan County Jail on Highway 6, as the county's newly elected sheriff, Parnell McNamara, made good on his promise to take the appliances out of the facility.

The microwaves taxed the jail's electrical system and last year the county's maintenance department asked for $85,000 to upgrade wiring in the A and B wings of the facility.

County commissioners denied the request.

"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 after the vote.

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.

The microwaves weren't purchased with taxpayer dollars, but instead from proceeds from the jail's commissary fund.

Then Sheriff Larry Lynch equated them to TV sets and said, "They help with the control of inmates."

Over the past 3 years, the McLennan County Jail's commissary fund paid for $21,000 worth of microwaves for jail use.

According to Texas Jail Standards, letting inmates use microwaves inside a jail is legal as long a jailer can supervise.

But according to Ken Witt, a McLennan County Sheriff's Deputy who has worked in the jail for 14 years, told News 10 in September 2012 that he's seen inmates use jail microwaves to cause harm.

"We had a problem where one inmate put oils and hygiene items in water, microwaved it, and threw it in the face of another inmate. It severely burned him, I mean, you can still see the scars on this inmate's face," Witt said.

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.

But could removing this popular household item from the McLennan County Jail cause backlash among inmates?

Jail Supervisor John Kolinek doesn't think so.

"We expect the people who are housed here to go along with the direction that the sheriff brings," Kolinek said.

"If there is any issue with an inmate, they will be removed immediately."

A major facelift will come to the jail's commissary list, now that the microwaves have been nuked.

The commissary list is an itemized two page arrangement consisting of food items, drinks, hygiene materials, and books. Inmates are allowed to purchase items off of this list.

According to Kolinek, any item on the commissary list that must be heated up inside a microwave, will be removed.

Kolinek also said that jail administrators are continuing to look at the commissary list and will possibly remove more items in the future.

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