NEW BOSTON, Texas — For the first time in 20 years, Bowie County has a new sheriff.
Jeff Neal, who has been in law enforcement for 31 years, was sworn in to the position on Friday morning.
Neal said he has learned a lot from his predecessor, whom he worked with for 14 and a half years, with seven of those years as James Prince's chief deputy.
"James Prince left some big shoes to fill and I certainly am going to do my best to do that. I believe he served the citizens well. I often hear that from the community when I am out and about and I hope when I leave they will say the same thing," Neal said moments before taking the oath of office in the county's top law enforcement post.
Neal said the primary focus currently is the transition of the county, which is taking over the jail from LaSalle Corrections next month.
LaSalle is a private company that's managed the Bowie County Correctional Center for about 10 years. On Nov. 9, 2020, LaSalle notified county officials that it intends to allow its current contract to expire as of Feb. 12.
Neil said Friday a budget for jail staff salaries was approved at a recent Commissioners Court meeting, and hiring for those 200-plus positions will begin soon.
The hiring process will include interviews and background checks conducted, offers made and hiring those chosen as county employees by Feb. 13.
Current staff members have been asked to reapply as well, he said.
Other things to ensure a smooth transition of the county taking over the lockup include approving contracts for the jail's medical and food services as well as switching over the utilities and other details.
Neal also shared his thoughts about serving the county.
"It has been my philosophy to come to work every day and give my best and come back tomorrow and do it again. So I promise to do my best to serve them as well as I can," he said.
The Bible Neal had for the swearing in ceremony was personalized on the cover, depicting a sheriff's badge, his name and the date he became sheriff.
Other Bowie County officials sworn in Friday include constables Russell Crawford and Chad Ford. Also, Precinct 1 Commissioner Sammy Stone and Precinct 3 Commissioner James Strain took their oaths of office during the ceremony.
Sheriff's deputies were also sworn in during a separate ceremony.