SAN ANTONIO – Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said Friday that the city made a mistake by deciding not to utilize the county's new prisoner intake building, describing the current facility shared by both entities as being "caught in the 19th century."
The comments came before a media tour of the $32.8 million Bexar County Justice Intake and Assessment Center, a five-story structure connected to the south end of the jail that is scheduled to open this summer.
Mike Lozito, Bexar County's director of Judicial and County Intake Services, showed off the first floor of the facility, which uses an open booking approach.
Lozito and Wolff described the move away from using holding cells in most cases as part of a push for "therapeutic justice," an initiative that focuses on the well-being of prisoners while being booked and after they are released.
"We want to make sure we treat them the right way when we bring them in here," Wolff said.
County officials said the facility will focus on mental health assessments for people brought in and includes state-of-the-art detention security electronics and surveillance as well as a closed sally port.
City officials at first expressed some level of interest in utilizing the new facility, even accompanying the county on trips to other parts of the country where this type of system is being used, according to multiple sources.
However, the city ultimately decided the San Antonio Police Department, Park police and Airport police will continue processing prisoners at the current building at 401 S. Frio Street.
"My view, I think it's a mistake for them not doing it," said Wolff.
Officials attending the tour said the city's decision will cause some steps of processing to be duplicated for people arrested by SAPD who are unable to post bond.
SAPD Chief William McManus provided a stinging response to Wolff's comments during an interview Friday afternoon.
"Ludicrous, absolutely ludicrous," said McManus, while defending the current facility as having plenty of cameras and guards, and saying that prisoners are treated in a dignified manner.
"The plan that they came up with was dumped at our feet a year and a half ago," said McManus, who added that county officials designed the facility without getting input from its "largest consumer."
McManus provided a summary of concerns SAPD has with the new facility, including what he described as its inability to properly process people charged with Class C misdemeanors and public intoxication.
SAPD has also expressed concerns that the building provides inadequate parking for booking prisoners, not enough space for medical screening and not enough room for officers to complete the report-writing process.