Mentally ill inmates are inappropriately locked in their cells for 23 hours a day, because of staffing shortages and lack of space for "out-of-cell time," according to the report.
In the mental health category, other problems reported were a difficulty in tracking patients, lack of privacy, inadequate staffing and a lack of adequate space to conduct mental health evaluations.
The report highlighted several areas of improvement, including jail maintenance response times, the cleanliness of laundry, and a training program to help jail guards recognize and respond to health emergencies.
In addition, there is now excellent leadership of health operations, the jails are on a "steady foundation of funding," and clinical staffs are of high quality, the report said.
However quite a few areas still needed upgrading; here's Krause's summary:
• Difficulty tracking patients' medical needs.
• Lack of privacy during medical screening.
• Lack of follow-up for inmates returning from the hospital.
• Inadequate fire safety systems in all five jails, including broken or inadequate alarm systems in four jails.
• Slow response to inmate sick calls.
• Use of dirty mattresses that can no longer be cleaned and should be thrown out.
• Improper use of chemical cleaning agents by inmates.
• Lack of dedicated sanitation officers.
Inevitably these criticisms of the jail will be thrown into the political fire this fall, and rightly so, though I'm not sure Republican Lowell Cannady would do any better - he's a former Dallas police supervisor and Irving police chief who's never worked in a jail and brings no experience in correctional health to the table.
It's little secret that Dallas County Republicans view Sheriff Lupe Valdez as the weakest down-ballot candidate they have a chance to unseat; if she's vulnerable, it's because of how she's managed the jail. She's been there a full term and it's time to own the problems; after four years she can no longer blame them on her predecessor, even if they did exist before she got there.
In such a high-turnout election with a popular Democratic presidential candidate above her on the ballot, I personally think Valdez's vulnerability may be overstated. But the stakes are high on many levels and if more voters split tickets locally because of the Sheriff's race, GOP leaders hope they can stifle Democratic gains among Dallas judgeships from the 2006 election, possibly even creating an electoral roadmap for challenging popular District Attorney Craig Watkins in 2010.One problem with this blame game in the Sheriff's race is that funding from the county commissioners court - not any decision the Sheriff makes - remains the primary barrier to fixing problems like inadequate staffing to manage mentally ill inmates.
Dallas isn't the only Texas jail facing similar problems managing mentally ill or sick offenders in the face of staffing shortages, but they're the only one with the USDOJ looking over their shoulder waiting to force them to fix things with a court order. The Supreme Court has long declared counties are constitutionally required to provide healthcare to those in their jails. If Dallas won't pony up for adequate carceral health care services, I wouldn't be surprised when one day soon a federal judge steps in and takes the decision, not to mention control of the cost, entirely out of their hands.