Saturday, August 25, 2007

Texas jail news

Several recent jail related items deserve Grits readers attention:

Val Verde jail deaths, illnesses not related?
Kathleen at Texas Prison Bidness has an update on the unexplained jail deaths at the Val Verde detention facility operated by the Geo Group, a private prison company. It turns out the main reason they don't know what's going on yet is that the Bexar County Medical Examiner declined to perform an autopsy on the Honduran inmate who was first to die. "Has anyone asked why the medical examiner's office declined to perform an autopsy?" wrote Kathleen. I think someone just did. It's a damn good question. Meanwhile at the Texas Observer blog Forrest Wilder suggests that Geo's efforts to keep profits up may cause them to neglect expensive medical care. See prior Grits coverage.

Cameron tent jail: Second time's a charm, nearly
After he was forced to tear down Cameron County's first tent jail because he built it without approval from state regulators, Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio may begin moving inmates into another version of his tent jail next week. His new tent failed state and local inspections Thursday, but apparently there's only a short checklist of items to be completed before they can open the facility. Counties are allowed to operate tent jails on an emergency basis for up to three years, but Cameron is the only county right now doing so. The Sheriff says he hopes the Lege will change the law in 2009 to let him go longer - personally, I wouldn't count on that.

So who will fill this tent jail? Perhaps predictably, nonviolent misdemeanor defendants awaiting trial. Reported the McAllen Monitor (8/23), "Nearly three dozen nonviolent inmates facing misdemeanor charges are expected to be housed in the tent facility." My question: Wouldn't it be cheaper and smarter to let nonviolent misdemeanor defendants out on personal bonds awaiting trial? I've been considering instituting annual Grits "Smart on Crime" and "Dumb on Crime" awards, and Sheriff Lucio would definitely be a candidate for the latter prize.

Family to police: Tell us what happened
After police told the family of a Pasadena man who died in custody that he may have died of an heart attack or a stroke, an autopsy revealed bruising, abrasions, blood splatters and two knocked out teeth that the defendant still had when taken into custody. Now the family wants the officers to explain what happened in court, reports the Houston Chronicle. Here's an example of how stronger open records laws might prevent civil litigation: Current law puts families in such cases in the position of having zero information, being asked to trust officials who've already misled them, and the only way they can find out what really happened is to sue. Opening records in closed investigations would solve that dilemma once and for all, and probably reduce litigation against police departments.

Munoz to Howard County: Build a new jail
Howard County's jail is old and fundamentally out of compliance with current jail architecture and safety standards. For years the Texas Commission on Jail Standards gave the facility variances, but now the Big Spring Herald reports ("Munoz to Howard County: Build a new jail," Aug. 24) that a letter from TCJS chief Adan Munoz raised the specter of closing the jail if voters do not approve a bond election in November. Howard voters rejected a new jail last year, but as in Tyler, commissioners plan to place it on the ballot again. The Howard County Judge said closure of the jail would bankrupt the county "within a year."

Rangers search Bexar sheriff's home over commissary bribe scandal
Texas Rangers yesterday searched the home of Bexar County Sheriff Ralph Lopez and his wife Nancy (both were named in the warrant as search targets) hoping to find more information regarding alleged bribes and improper gifts and trips relating to Bexar's jail commissary contract. Rangers also executed a search warrant at the home of the Sheriff's campaign manager John Reynolds, a central actor in the bribery allegations. I'm glad to learn DA Susan Reed has outsourced the investigation to the Texas Rangers. It enhances her credibility to have the investigation performed by an outside party. Which is precisely why she should have outsourced the investigation in the Ruben Cantu case when her own office's credibility was in question.


Anonymous said...

i hope the pasadena officers are held responsible for their actions if they were indeed responsible for the man's injuries. no one should be allowed to get away with murder, even if they do wear a badge.

Anonymous said...

WAY TO GO SUSAN REED! Put the Sheriff in jail with the others!!!Right! just because they where the badge is nothing but worse than dont. Put em away, he is a CROOK AND WE DONT NEED HIM AS A SHERIFF. AND HIS PARTNER!