Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Up to 500 still without bunks at Harris County Jail

Okay, so now maybe a few hundred inmates are sleeping on the jail floor in Houston. I guess that's better than nearly 2,000 last summer, but ...

Though Harris County Sheriff Tommy Thomas told the media the
problem was resolved, Chief Deputy Mike Smith told the Texas Commission on Jail Standards at their May 4 meeting that "currently the average number of inmates without bunks is between 350 and 500 at any given time," according to the minutes (pdf) posted last week on their website.

After Deputy Smith's presentation, the
Commission voted to require the Harris Jail to transfer or otherwise find alternative accomodations for 500 prisoners, but Sheriff Thomas appealed the ruling, buying himself a 90 day window. Harris county commissioners and judges will have to assist the sheriff to make any progress, probably in the face of a defiant District Attorney, so I'll bet there's a lot of behind the scenes politicking going on right now about sentencing practices and the jail, especially for low-level drug users.

The situation will be helped a little by a new 300-bed drug treatment center openting up. Presently according to the Houston Chronicle, 170 men and 38 women are waiting in the Harris County jail for treatment beds to open up. (See Dale Lezon's article: "
300-bed downtown facility is expected to ease pressure on the jail, speed help to the addicted," May 28.) But judges and the county commissioners court still need to get to work to find more effective solutions. Even if they achieve short-term compliance, that in no way implies they've found a long-term fix.

What they're reading at the Harris County probation department," and "Grits' best practices to reduce county jail overcrowding."

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