An unexpected, sudden rise in suicides at county jails in a year that saw a record number of them – including the high-profile death of Sandra Bland in a Waller County lockup – has officials and experts in Texas scratching their heads.We also get a little backstory as to how the jail intake form became the main focus of regulatory reform:
Thirty-three people committed suicide in a Texas county jail in 2015, according to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. Records kept since 2010 show the number of suicides in previous years was between 19 and 26 in jails where about 1 million people are held every year. Since the fiscal year ended, commission Executive Director Brandon Wood said there have been another 10 suicides.
Well before Bland's death, TCJS knew there were problems with its intake form, thanks in part to Diana Claitor, executive director of the Texas Jail Project. After analyzing reports on jails found out of compliance between 2010 and 2013, Claitor found that failing to properly screen inmates resulted in more demerits than anything else.That's encouraging. Grits has been concerned that TCJS and state officials have focused nearly exclusively on improving this form as a solution, even though clearly it's not an end unto itself. So I"m glad to learn Brandon Wood was reacting to an issue advocates had identified as a problem. Without that bit of information, it seemed odd for TCJS to hype this change so hard. That it was a known problem advocates were already trying to change makes much more sense (to me) of his response.
"We set up these things, but people have to have a will, and they have to be trained to make it important enough to do something with," Claitor said. "There's been discussions over the inadequacies of this form for a while, so it's a strong strategy to try to change this."
Moravec reported on another possible reform which would have to be mandated by the Legislature:
The committees chaired by Whitmire and Coleman both are tasked with addressing jail safety and standards during the interim, and are actively brainstorming. Wood said he's been instructed by both bodies to work into his next budget requests for enough officers to inspect county jails twice a year, instead of just once.That would be a big change. Notably, the suggestion to double the number of state inspections comes at a time when the Harris County Sheriff just slashed the number of jail standards compliance officers in half at the state's largest county jail.
[Former TCJS chief Adan] Munoz said increasing inspections will "keep jails on their toes and keep them from falsifying records. If you have more inspectors to do more routine surprise inspections, you'll have everyone ready 24/7."