James McLaughlin, the executive director and general counsel of the Texas Police Chiefs Association, [who] says city jails are so small and inmates stay there for such short periods of time that it would be unrealistic to apply county jail standards to municipal facilities. Plus, he says, it would be expensive. “You’d see a lot of those [jails] shut down,” McLaughlin says.But of course, if tiny municipal jails can't operate safely, a lot of them probably should shut down. Grissom adds that:
At a recent meeting of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, jail standards officials told lawmakers that city-run facilities should face more scrutiny. Currently, there are no monitored state standards in place for either construction of or conditions inside municipal jails. And there is no requirement that city jailers be trained or certified. Since 2007, the commission has received dozens of complaints about conditions in city jails, most commonly about sanitation, food, supervision and medical care. One of the most disturbing complaints the agency received was from an inmate who said that when she was arrested, an officer put her in a jail cell, handed her a cell phone and told her to call him if she needed anything. “The complainant was left locked in the jail cell with no supervision or contact … for three hours,” according to the commission's report to lawmakers.Here's a telling example of how these jails currently oversee inmates in their care:
With no authority over city jails, there’s nothing the commission can do about those complaints.
At the Senate Criminal Justice Committee hearing last week, Hedwig Village Police Chief Dave Barber told lawmakers that he might have to shut down his eight-cell lockup if he had to meet the same standards as county jails. His small town is a Houston suburb, and at most, he said, he has about two or three people at a time in the jail. The longest anyone can stay there, he said, is 56 hours.Pitiful. Just pitiful. And we're supposed to believe such "services" are something municipalities just can't live without? What a crock. Barber's main argument for keeping the jail is that they'd otherwise have to pay the county for locking up the same inmates, but running jails costs money. Regrettably,
With so few people in his jail, Barber said, it doesn’t make sense to hire a full-time, licensed jailer. Instead, he keeps a timer in the station that is set to ding every hour. When the timer dings, an officer walks back to check on the inmates. If all of the officers are out on patrol, the dispatcher checks on the jail. And he said his wards are fed three squares a day — each one a McDonald’s Happy Meal. “It’s embarrassing to tell you this,” Barber told the committee. “But this is the way that most of us operate.”
Combine the budget woes with the political power of city leaders and police chiefs who oppose municipal jail regulation and [Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chair John] Whitmire says he has no expectation that those facilities will face more accountability anytime soon. “If there are abuses, we have remedies,” he says. “We have civil rights laws. We have Texas Rangers. We have investigative bodies.”It's too bad the Rangers, District Attorneys and other "investigative bodies" have been, and will likely continue to be, complicit in sweeping such problems under the rug instead of holding those responsible for abuse and neglect accountable. This may be a situation where civil litigation must drive up costs enough to make sending the inmates to county jails more financially attractive before (supposedly) responsible parties make what seems like an obvious decision: Cities that can't afford to adequately staff jails and provide medical and other services simply shouldn't operate them.