recently launched an anonymous online survey targeted towards Texas Sheriffs, County Court Judges, and Jail Administrators. Specifically, this survey was intended to address questions posed by the Sunset Advisory Commission in regards to the mission and performance of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS).See the full survey here (pdf). Most respondents said no changes were needed to TCJS' functions, but the largest number who offered suggestions believed that "additional assistance to jails and counties in their efforts to be safe and compliant," while responses to another question placed the highest premium on "more training for jail staff; more education and available information."
I think that's exactly right; TCJS currently performs annual inspections but does not have capacity to provide significant technical assistance to counties to help them implement diversion programs or reduce overcrowding. As a result, TCJC recommended that:
TCJS should be given additional staff that can focus solely on providing technical assistance for programs that provide rehabilitation, education, and re-integration for inmates confined in county and municipal jail facilities under its jurisdiction. Such programs could include (a) group counseling, (b) drug education, (c) basic education programs, (d) transition planning, and (d) aftercare planning.Staffing that function at TCJS could have a big impact on local jail overcrowding and help ensure that lessons learned in one jurisdiction are communicated to jailers in other counties. IMO, the other big need is for greater oversight by TCJS of medical and mental health-related jail functions, both as part of the inspection process and providing technical assistance to improve these functions.
Respondents to TCJC's survey were asked to list the biggest challenges facing their jails and TCJS in the next five to ten years and, perhaps predictably, the top three were:
• 36% = overcrowding (due to increasing jail populations)It's true that jail populations are increasing in Texas even though crime has been declining, but nearly all that trend results from expanded use of pretrial detention for low-level offenders. Given that, staffing TCJS to provide technical assistance aimed at reducing pretrial detention could produce a lot of bang for the buck for county taxpayers, particularly in the near term when many jurisdictions are still using inefficient practices. I think that's a really smart suggestion.
• 22% = additional jail and TCJS staffing
• 13% = additional jail construction
Read TCJC's full written response to the Sunset Staff Report here. See also the Sunset staff report and public comments submitted as part of the Sunset process. Comments on the Jail Standards Commission's Sunset review may still be submitted until 5 p.m. this afternoon; email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.