Monday, July 01, 2013

Seven Texas county jails out of compliance with state regulations, other jail news

Now that the 83rd Texas legislative session is behind us (save for the unhappy and hot special session that starts today), it's time to explore some of the local and regional issues that have arisen while Grits' attention has been diverted. E.g., here are the latest inspection reports for county jails deemed non-compliant with regulations established by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS):
Let's run through the highlights.

Ector County (Odessa) is one of the rare Texas jails of any size that's above capacity, though lately not by much.

In Madison County (Madisonville), the jail had a leaky roof and the locks to all the cell doors could not be operated electronically, requiring use of a key. (Grits mentioned the other day that locks and keys are more important to human security than most people give them credit for; nowhere is that more true than a jail.)

In Presidio County (Marfa), TCJS found fire safety violations, failures to meet training requirements and one jailer working who was unlicensed.

Tiny (population-wise, anyway) Stonewall County (Aspermont) was not adequately assessing inmates on intakefor mental health and suicide prevention criteria. Apparently one mentally ill inmate was incarcerated more than a month without being properly identified and referred. Also inmates weren't being given the required minimum amount of exercise/recreation time, which by TCJS rule is a paltry one hour per day, three days per week. On the day of the inspection, one jailer was working who was not properly licensed.

Slightly larger Yoakum County (Plains) had not provided adequate training to its staff and had not tested fire extinguishers or emergency power equipment as frequently as required.

Young County (Graham)was using new recruits in the jail before they'd received required training and jailers were not completing the required screening instrument for mental disabilities/suicide prevention.

The Zavala County Jail (Crystal City) is another rare jail with two dorms over capacity. Jailers had not received required life-safety training and the required Suicide Screening Form was not being completed immediately upon intake.

Click though on the bulleted links above for more detail on any specific county. It's a bit surprising that so many very small jails are on the list and none of the larger jails have lately been deemed non-compliant - for a while there, the big jails topped the list. Perhaps dramatically reduced jail populations have relieved their problems, which were frequently a function of overcrowding and/or understaffing. One hopes it's not an indication that the new administration (their long-time executive director Adan Munoz retired last year, replaced by his long-time understudy, Brandon Wood) has become hesitant to go after the more politically powerful players in larger counties.

Maybe it's good news that none of the larger counties (and only Ector among mid-sized counties) are on the commission's s#%t list. Perhaps it's a sign that the larger county jails are improving and professionalizing. Or perhaps it's a bit to early to make that inference. Another possibility is that regulators lately have focused on sanctioning jails in smaller, less-politically potent counties - either because there's less blowback than from sanctioning larger jurisdictions or perhaps because they'd been ignored in the past when the big jails dominated the commission's time. And, of course, the commission does not have adequate inspection staff, so the lack of big counties on the non-compliant list could just mean that TCJS hasn't gotten to those facilities yet this year. ¿Quien sabe? There's not enough information to tell, these are just the questions floating around in my head as I read these reports.

In other news garnered from perusing the TCJS website, I saw this new report on staff turnover (pdf) which found that Texas county jails statewide collectively suffered a 2% turnover rate in the month of March. If that figure held year round and jails really do lose 24% of their staff each year, that's a large number.

Another TCJS report (pdf) revealed that, in the month of May, county jails spent $6.45 million housing 5,406 offenders on immigration "holds" for a collective 109,476 bed days waiting for the feds to pick them up.

It's been a while since I've attended a Commission on Jail Standards meeting, which as formal public hearings go are remarkably well-attended by county officials and sometimes a hoot. And unfortunately, I'll be on vacation when the next one rolls around in August. It'd be great to have interns or somebody to help cover such TCJS meetings, sanctions, and other county jail issues. (Ditto for juvenile stuff.) The MSM have abandoned the beat, for the most part, and except in spurts this blog does not have the resources to effectively follow far-flung county jail issues. That's especially true where the local media don't provide particularly keen or critical coverage, as is often the case in rural jurisdictions. At the August commission meeting, which I'll have to miss, there will be a "workshop" (see the agenda [pdf]) where commissioners consider revisions to standards in the following areas:
  • Complaints
  • Remote Holding Cells
  • Audible Communications 
  • Supervision Outside the Security Perimeter
  • Work Assignments
Kind of important stuff but lately, whether due to staffing cutbacks or simple disinterest, no Texas journalist has been routinely covering that beat. Regrettable.


Anonymous said...

Grits, we appreciate this one of kind report. (One of kind due to never seeing anything about the smaller jails).

Hope you have fun on your well deserved vacat.

Anonymous said...

Speaking about Surprise Inspections & from actual experience - when & if Harris County is on the list, they always get a heads up.

You could tell when they got 'it' because the Lts. & Srgts. would form 12 man Goon Squads (deputies & jailers) that would storm the tanks after 2 or 3 AM. I’ve often wondered if the female floors were going through it at the same time.

Anonymous said...

And you just got the list that was updated today. About 3 weeks ago Cass County was on the list regarding a female inmate who died in custody.


Anonymous said...

The staff turnover report is not new and has been required for two years or more now.

There a fewer jails in non- compliance status because inspectors now allow jails to correct the deficiency before the inspector leaves the jail. If it's corrected before they leave, a notice of non-compliance is not issued.

Anonymous said...

Presidio County placed in non-compliance on November 13, 2012, and Madison County on November 28, 2012. Both while Mr. Munoz was in charge and both still non-compliant but still open for business


Anonymous said...

If all locks are supposed to be electronically operable then I have a question as to whether the privately operated jail facility at La Villa TX (Hidalgo County) has been inspected recently. Sometimes whenI have to visit someone there, the jail staff takes forever searching for keys before they can bring detainee to her side of visitation booth & it makes me wonder if this is a problem.