, Port Arthur, Texas

Local News

May 29, 2014

Sheriff Woods discusses prisons, drugs at PA Sertoma Club meeting

PORT ARTHUR — During the 18 years Mitch Woods has been sheriff of Jefferson County, he’s witnessed many changes, especially when it comes to inmates incarcerated at the county jail.

“In 1996, the majority of inmates were minimum and medium security risk. The smallest was maximum security risks,” Woods said while speaking to a group of Port Arthur Sertoma members Thursday.

Now, those numbers have flip-flopped, with the majority being maximum risks, followed by medium, he said.

In a jail where most of beds are for minimum security inmates, the change in classifications presents a challenge, he said.

Woods theorized the trend of having repeat offenders in and out of the Jefferson County Detention contributed to higher risk inmates.

If the trend continues, the Detention Center may have to look at city jails to help out. The only problem: City jails shuttered their doors years ago in favor of paying the county to house inmates in the County Detention Center.

Woods explained to the group that the sheriff’s department, though it does have the right to make arrests in cities, it is agreed that cities’ police departments patrol incorporated areas of municipalities, while the sheriff’s department patrols rural incorporated areas.

Sheriff’s deputies also serve warrants, and some work with city police departments jointly on matters such as drug cases.

All are quick to help each other if assistance is needed, he said.

Woods, a 1970 Thomas Jefferson High School graduate from Port Arthur, was drafted into the Army — one of the last to be do, he said.

After serving his country he became a police officer and worked for the Port Arthur Police Department for 13 years, was in the District Attorney’s office for 11, then successfully ran for sheriff in 1996.

Woods said he spends much of his day directing the Detention Center, and has found that running a jail is not only not easy, its a constant challenge.

“We counted a little over 800 inmates this morning,” he said.

The number, while is seems high, used to be worse.

“There used to be 1,100 a day from the time I first started,” he said.

Though opinions vary, Woods said he believes marijuana should not be legalized.

Woods is a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area executive board member. None of those serving on the board are in favor of legalizing cannabis — especially since Houston is major drug trafficking area.

Legalizing marijuana will not solve drug trafficking problems, he said.

“We find the money is going west toward Houston and drugs are going east,’ he said.

Marijuana is a threshold drug, often leading to the use of other, more powerful drugs, Woods said.

Because of its proximity to some of the nation’s largest refineries and waterways, Jefferson County’s Sheriff Department has more assets and capabilities than most other similar-size departments, Woods said.

“I feel like I am the luckiest sheriff in the state of Texas because of where we are located,” Woods said.


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