First, departing House Urban Affairs Committee Chairman Kevin Bailey "has asked the state attorney general to determine whether it is legal for a sheriff to accept a fee for work with a private detention company that contracts with his county to operate a county jail," reported the Waco Tribune Herald. (See more on the AG request from Texas Prison Bidness.)
Meanwhile, jail plans in Waco are at a standstill because the consultant chosen by the county can't figure out how to build a jail that complies with state regulations within the minimalist package approved by the commissioners court. (The jail may turn out to be a two-story building instead of a one-story structure.) Jail planners also proposed using video visitation at the jail in lieu of adding more parking space and building a larger visitation area:
Finally, besides new jail building, county practices in the current jail have also come under fire. The Austin-based Texas Civil Rights Project has filed suit against the McLennan County jail to stop its practice of strip searching inmates. A few years back I heard an attorney involved in successful California jail litigation on strip searches, and from that account I'm guessing the sort of blanket strip searches described as going on in Waco are clearly unconstitutional. TCRP is working with co-counsel from California in the Waco case who:
Another design issue is deciding how much space should be dedicated to the jail’s visitation center. Officials are contemplating building video visitation kiosks throughout the jail that would be linked to a video conferencing center off-site for families to contact inmates. The video conferencing center would contain private booths similar to pay phones.
Visitation hours still would be held at the facility for people who choose to do in-person visits. Less space would be set aside for the parking lot, and a smaller visitors’ center would be created under the assumption that fewer people would come to the jail for visits, leaving more space for cells.
“We envision it being something like the pay phones in the jail now, except instead of the phone portion it would be video,” Adams said. “These things will be regulated, so you won’t have people getting visitation at 2 o’clock in the morning. But there would be set times for when inmates can visit, and it will be more convenient for the families.”
Sheriff Larry Lynch said during the meeting he supports video visitation, citing success of the practice at Collin County jails in North Texas. He said the video conferencing also could be used by attorneys to meet with their clients, a practice that is being used in the 54th and 74th state district courts.
“There could be longer visits, depending on how we get this worked out,” he said. “It would be more convenient for people because they won’t have to come out to the jail and sit out in the parking lot waiting to get in. And they won’t get turned away because there are too many people (coming to the jail).”
has settled several class-action strip-search cases against county jails in at least three other states and currently has a similar suit pending in Bexar County in Texas, a Texas Civil Rights Project spokesman said. In 2005, Sacramento County, Calif., agreed to pay $15 million to 4,000 inmates who were strip-searched “without reasonable suspicion,” the spokesman said.See prior, related Grits posts:
- McLennan commissioners back on private jail track after raucous debate
- Commissioner wants off jail privatization train
- What options besides jail building for Waco?
- A couple of Jillls with their eyes on a couple of bills
- Costs of privatization debated in Waco
- Deputies oppose Waco jail privatization plans