Saturday, March 08, 2008

DOJ investigating Harris County Jail

The defining reforms in Texas corrections historically have come about through federal litigation: The famous Ruiz case for our adult prisons, and Morales v. Turman at TYC, constituted the most significant impetus for change at those agencies in the last half century.

So it must make prison and jail administrators nervous that Texas has received a lot more attention lately from federal authorities regarding deficiencies in our corrections systems. First DOJ released a scathing report about healthcare at the Dallas County Jail. Then recently the Texas Youth Commission entered into an Agreed Order to end litigation over the Evins Unit in South Texas.

Now, the feds are turning their sights on the massive Harris County Jail system, AP reports (March 7):
The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the Harris County jail system, officials said Friday, probing sanitation and health conditions that have come under scrutiny from civil rights groups in recent years.

Department of Justice officials, in a letter to Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, said its investigation will focus on "protection of inmates from harm, environmental conditions, and inmate medical and mental health care."

For the last few years, civil rights groups and local religious leaders have criticized the jail system, alleging overcrowding and poor health conditions. They have compared the jail to a "slave ship."

The jail system has a population of nearly 9,900 inmates, according to a Texas Commission on Jail Standards report last month. The commission lists the capacity at about 11,000.

In a statement, Harris County Sheriff Tommy Thomas, whose department runs the jail system, said federal officials will have his agency's "full cooperation."

The Justice Department said in its letter that it has not made any conclusions in the case.

Harris County's jail houses more inmates than the entire prison systems in a score of states - more than 9,000 at the jail, and another 600 housed in private contract facilities in Louisiana. The jail in Houston actually has almost 2,000 empty beds, but the Sheriff can't hire enough guards to staff it properly; for a while, before they contracted with the Louisiana facility, many Harris jail inmates were sleeping on mattresses on the floor.

Harris voters wisely rejected new jail building last fall; why build new space when you can't staff the facility you've got? Harris County officials have many options besides jail building to reduce overcrowding, if local judges and the commissioners court would support them, but Sheriff Thomas is pursuing policies that make the problem worse. Maybe pressure by the feds will encourage Harris County to consider more practical solutions than building jails that can't be staffed.

See Grits' series on the Harris County Jail from 2005 - most of the issues described therein have changed very little.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

whoohoo!! Its about time - the Justice Dept is going to have to hire an entire division, all the county jails are far below standards and tdcj is no better. People need to see where their tax money is going and its not to rehabilitation, humane conditions or adequate staff. They're goin' down.

Anonymous said...

there not goin down

Anonymous said...

90% of jail beefs are medical related. The ME office has nothing to do with jail medical staffing. You need to look at who provide the medical staff, UTMB, etc.

Justice Watch USA said...

This is a welcomed development.

Anonymous said...

The Feds need to stay in Harris Co. jail for several years. Sheriff Thomas needs to go, how did his son who shot someone, robbed someone and has several DWIs not spend a night in jail? This smells bad and Thomas will be linked to Rosenthal in a matter of time. They were inseperable and time will take care of Thomas and the jail problems will decrease. Also when some of the Judges are unseated, this will also lessen the problems. Some of the Judges think they sit on thrones!! Use your own definition.

Anonymous said...

Somone needs to be sent in ther undercover. I was picked up on tickets in October 07 and i saw a jailer that weighed about 220 thrown a drunked woman to the ground and break her nose, split her lip and forhead all because she pushed back against him while walking in to holding cell. More than that I wonder while males gaurds have to dal with femal detainees, when the jail is full of female guards and some of these women was just as tough if not tougher than the men.

Anonymous said...

I just spent six months in the Harris County Jail. This place is a country club. Three meals a day, weekly commissary, television, newspaper, laundry change out, 24 hour daddy day care, sheet, towel, blanket, and bunk bed. Inmates are required to be on "clean up crew" one day a week. Brooms, mops, long handle scrub brush, and several bottles of disinfectant are introduced three times per day. Restrooms are scrubbed, floors are swept and mopped. All horizontal surfaces are wiped down. Any unsanitary conditions are the fault of lazy inmates, not the county. Some inmates choose to live like pigs in the "free world". They do not bathe, use deodorant, brush their teeth or use a trash can. They are certainly not going to change their habits while in jail. After all is said and done, the DOJ will find the conditions quite acceptable.

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of idiots in the Harris County Jail. They claim to be "grown ass men". A 27 year old who is a babby daddy and has never had a job is no "grown ass man". He is a lazy ass irresponsible street punk who preys upon law abiding citizens for survival. The county and TDC need more beds for these punks.

Anonymous said...

Why would Tommy T. and His band of lazy sheriff's want to be honest and cooperate with DOJ ?. It's a job where Harris counties lasiest employees get to go and earn a living while not doing a dang thing. And not to mention that the jail is a sweet cash cow for old Tommy T. and His gay buddies, Harris county jail raked in over 8 million dollars from inmates last year, and not a dime has gone to improving living conditions there yet, Do you really beleive ol'e Tommy is going to work with DOJ on this?. I don't think so. Well now We have a well respected Mexican Sheriff that will hopefully show that He has the gonads to stand up to these county officials with that redneck attitude.
Clean House Brother Adrian G. The citezens of houston are tired of it and we have your back

Anonymous said...

The jail is a "sweet cash cow for Tommy T." How do you figure, my brother? Must be smokin crack again! "Raked in 8 million dollars from inmates? From what??? Selling soups at 40 cents a pop??? Do you think just because Adrian Garcia is Hispanic things will be any different? Ain't a damn thing gonna change...

Anonymous said...

My son has shared with me that Harris County staff treat inmates like trash. He has been there twice now...and it has been the same both times. My son was beaten..medication withheld and harrassed and humilitated by staff. A grievance was filed and staff did all they could do to cover for each other. Yes..these men have committed crimes and must be punished and that is why they are serving time. Must they also be subjected to staff that seem to love to humiliate, harrass and treat them with absolute desrepect? Many have medication with witheld and beaten because they speak up for themselves. They are labled insubordinate, defiant and hostile because when staff treats them wrong they speak up. Just as it is on the outside, if someone speaks up for themselves they are not beaten as it should be in jail too.
I encourage all that have been wronged by Harris County staff to be brave and speak up. Many say that Adrian Garcia does not listen to inmates nor familes...but give the man a chance. Let us ALL unite...and write the letters...make the phone calls...do what we need to do to make things change in that Harris County jail. In the words of our president...YES WE CAN!...one letter and phone call at a time.

Anonymous said...

I like Archlord gold very much. Since I entered into this game, I learnt skills to earn Archlord money. Thanks to archlord online Gold let me know a lot of friends. It is my habit to buy Archlord gold, and I get some cheap Archlord gold from my friends and Internet.