I think most people would be amazed at how understaffed they are at the Commission on Jail Standards, and even so, under Munoz IMO it's done a good job. The agency's total number of inspectors: 4 (yes, four), cover nearly 300 facilities all over the state. By comparison, the Texas Youth Commission had SEVEN full-time staff assigned to monitor the Coke County facility, and look what happened there!
Most jails are inspected only once annually, and the commission may have little ability to enforce its standards beyond threatening to shut down a jail entirely, a difficult choice that obviously would have political ramifications.
Munoz told the Senate committee that TCJS only regulates private contractors if they house county jail prisoners. However, if a facility DOES house county prisoners, TCJS inspects and considers itself responsible for all offenders in the facility, even federal prisoners or immigration detainees, because the county government, ultimately, is responsible for everyone housed there.
All told, about 11,000 prisoners are currently housed in private prisons or jails regulated by TCJS, most of them county or federal prisoners. However, that still leaves most private-prison firms unregulated in Texas beyond minimal oversight by contracting agencies (TDCJ, TYC, etc.). For example, according to Munoz's testimony, TCJS only regulates six of the GEO Group's 18 detention centers the company currently operates in Texas.
Of those six regulated facilities, he said, one was consistently in non-compliance: The Dickens unit where the inmate was housed whose mother testified Friday to the Senate Committee about his suicide. In its last two inspections, Dickens was non-compliant regarding "staffing" and "life safety issues," which incidentally strongly corroborates Ms. Noble's point about the conditions to which her son was subjected.
Before 2003, said Munoz, TCJS also had statutory oversight over five other private prisons that housed only federal or immigration detainees through intergovernmental agreements with counties. But a little-noticed bill that year, HB 3517, removed TCJS jurisdiction over over those facilities - three of them run by the GEO Group and two run by private prison vendor MTC:
So a facility could be operating with less than optimal staff, it could be overcrowded or it can continue to have infrastructure problems, but the Commission on Jail Standards has no authority to verify this through the inspection process or force coercive action.Given news from Dickens and Coke Counties, God knows what kind of squalor these inmates are living in - they've been abandoned by the state of Texas. In addition, private facilities that contract with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice aren't regulated by TCJS, only through TDCJ contract oversight (unless they also happen to house county prisoners). TDCJ chief Brad Livingston told the committee the agency contracts for more than 17,000 beds statewide, only a handful of which (see below) are regulated by TCJS.
For my own future convenience, and on behalf of interested readers, I've compiled this spreadsheet of the private facilities TCJS regulates, where they are, what counties or other agencies they contract with, and how many beds they operate. As always, Texas Prison Bidness is the go-to blog on private prison issues in Texas for those looking for more information.
Commission on Jail Standards, 10/07
USMS = US Marshal's Service
BOP = Federal Bureau of Prisons
ICE = Immigration and Customs Enforcement
DOC = Department of Corrections
TDCJ = Texas Department of Criminal Justice