Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Waco jail affairs clouded in controversy

Having earlier covered debates in Waco over new jail construction and privatization, I should point readers to several recent articles on the McLennan County jail that show those topics haven't yet fully resolved themselves.

First, departing House Urban Affairs Committee Chairman Kevin Bailey "has asked the state attorney general to determine whether it is legal for a sheriff to accept a fee for work with a private detention company that contracts with his county to operate a county jail," reported the Waco Tribune Herald. (See more on the AG request from Texas Prison Bidness.)

Meanwhile, jail plans in Waco are at a standstill because the consultant chosen by the county can't figure out how to build a jail that complies with state regulations within the minimalist package approved by the commissioners court. (The jail may turn out to be a two-story building instead of a one-story structure.) Jail planners also proposed using video visitation at the jail in lieu of adding more parking space and building a larger visitation area:

Another design issue is deciding how much space should be dedicated to the jail’s visitation center. Officials are contemplating building video visitation kiosks throughout the jail that would be linked to a video conferencing center off-site for families to contact inmates. The video conferencing center would contain private booths similar to pay phones.

Visitation hours still would be held at the facility for people who choose to do in-person visits. Less space would be set aside for the parking lot, and a smaller visitors’ center would be created under the assumption that fewer people would come to the jail for visits, leaving more space for cells.

“We envision it being something like the pay phones in the jail now, except instead of the phone portion it would be video,” Adams said. “These things will be regulated, so you won’t have people getting visitation at 2 o’clock in the morning. But there would be set times for when inmates can visit, and it will be more convenient for the families.”

Sheriff Larry Lynch said during the meeting he supports video visitation, citing success of the practice at Collin County jails in North Texas. He said the video conferencing also could be used by attorneys to meet with their clients, a practice that is being used in the 54th and 74th state district courts.

“There could be longer visits, depending on how we get this worked out,” he said. “It would be more convenient for people because they won’t have to come out to the jail and sit out in the parking lot waiting to get in. And they won’t get turned away because there are too many people (coming to the jail).”

Finally, besides new jail building, county practices in the current jail have also come under fire. The Austin-based Texas Civil Rights Project has filed suit against the McLennan County jail to stop its practice of strip searching inmates. A few years back I heard an attorney involved in successful California jail litigation on strip searches, and from that account I'm guessing the sort of blanket strip searches described as going on in Waco are clearly unconstitutional. TCRP is working with co-counsel from California in the Waco case who:
has settled several class-action strip-search cases against county jails in at least three other states and currently has a similar suit pending in Bexar County in Texas, a Texas Civil Rights Project spokesman said. In 2005, Sacramento County, Calif., agreed to pay $15 million to 4,000 inmates who were strip-searched “without reasonable suspicion,” the spokesman said.
See prior, related Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

In 2005, Sacramento County, Calif., agreed to pay $15 million to 4,000 inmates who were strip-searched “without reasonable suspicion,”

Frigging ridiculous, or better yet insanity. Next will be $15 mil paid out to some who gets hurt by something someone smuggled in.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Celtic, systematic strip searches in local jails have been held unconstitutional by the courts for a long time for those who've only been arrested but not convicted. You may not agree with it, but for non-violent misdemeanants who've yet to be convicted of anything, e.g., like the lead plaintiff in Bexar County, the courts have required reasonable suspicion.

Given that, how else would you suggest the courts discourage a practice they've forbidden if not to impose penalties on those who violate the rules they've laid down? The courts didn't say "never," they said "only when necessary." From the SA Express News (at the above link):

"Not all jurisdictions follow the Bexar practice. Harris and Travis counties, for instance, have policies in place that prohibit indiscriminate strip searches. In fact, in Travis County, any strip search has to be thoroughly documented, said Lt. John Martin, a Sheriff's Department spokesman."

If Travis and Harris can run their jail without indiscriminate strip searches, so can the others.

Anonymous said...

OK celtictexan:

Be careful, upgrade your undies and run over to the gym, for you may be next! Look at some of the cases out there and remember that those that make it to the media or the courthouse are probably only the tip of the tailbone.

Teenagers getting stripped in a group for a missing $10.00 bill or an unverified tip on an Advil? A peaceful protester told to squat at the jail and "hop like a bunny" and later to find that the males in the group were not stripped, but the females were? A teenager stopped on traffic only and when the officer noticed her pants were unbuttoned (she ate too much at Wendy's - another crime on the horizon), a call for female backup and she gets the strip and a visual on the roadway? The DOT tries to add a strip search to drug testing all train drivers?

In Maryland, after it was determined that guards were smuggling drugs into a facility, a group of 12 were strip searched by the mistake of new equipment. How do you think they liked that? And hopefully, it wasn't even as abusive as one can imagine it can get for an arrestee.

Speaking of that, how much contraband gets in via guards v. incoming arrestees?

Certainly, the deterrent effect kicks in to some degree here. Most don't anticipate an arrest and load themselves up "just in case", but there are those that might do a thing like that - get arrested on a misdemeanor to have a party in the jail. But that is most likely rare and there would probably be other factors to justify a strip.

Get a metal detector to eliminate weapons and for the drugs, just deal with those rare incidents. It is not justifiable to subject everyone (or just the ones the guards pick out)to this sort of thing that obviously lends itself to abuse and the disenfranchisement of many first offenders.

Our justice system works better off of respect rather than fear and this is what this is all about - fear, power, indoctrination and perhaps a few more insavory things thrown into the pot. Just as you said, "Frigging ridiculous, or better yet insanity".

W W Woodward said...

This one's easy:
Texas Administrative Code
RULE §265.2 Search

(a) A thorough pat or frisk search shall be conducted on each inmate upon entry into the facility and prior to booking.

(b) When facility personnel reasonably believe it to be necessary, inmates should undergo a thorough strip search for weapons and contraband which may pose a threat to the security or safety of the facility. The strip search shall be conducted by corrections officer(s) OF THE SAME GENDER (my caps) in a reasonable and dignified manner and place.

TDCJ doesn't seem to have a problem with strip searching inmates with female officers present or even the general public for that matter. My wife serviced vending machines at the Montford unit in Lubbock and was treated to the sight of naked male inmates on more than one occasion while waiting to enter the area where her vending machines were located.

However, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards rules specifically forbid strip searches of inmates when officers of the opposite gender are present. This rule (§265.2 Search) applies to county jails and private correctional facilities.

Anonymous said...

The problem with TCJS is there are standards that cover search of inmates, there is no penalty for violation of this standard. TCJS even admits in their 2007 Self Evaluation Report that "one key obstacle impairing the agency's objectives is the lack of enforcement options to bring jails into compliance."

Unfortunately, the consequence will be decided by a federal court.

There is a "decision tree" formula that all Texas county jails can follow. The decision tree is intended to serve as a guide as to when/when not to conduct a strip search.

Each county should have a policy in place, based on the decision tree, that permits a strip search only when reasonable suspicion to suspect weapons or contraband exists.

Yet some jails continue to be mismanaged. The reason being two fold.

Many sheriff's are elected yet have no background or experience in jail adminsitration. Many are not familar with the standards and upon election, do not acquaint themselves with the standards. Basic jailer certification is not required of this elected official. Yet the Sheriff is the keeper of the jail.

Political cronies are then appointed to key command positions and are left to run things without any oversight by the sheriff or his chief deputy.

This lack of oversight continues to contribute to the problem area of strip searches as it relates to civil rights violations and jail liability; a problem that has been discussed time and time again at various training seminars on the subject matter.

Anonymous said...

Another CEC Customer Is the Fannin County Sheriff going to be paid by CEC like the McClennan County sheriff?

Jail construction underway in Fannin Co.

Posted: 6:35 PM Sep 9, 2008
Last Updated: 6:35 PM Sep 9, 2008
Reporter: KXII-TV Staff
Email Address:

FANNIN COUNTY, Tex. -- Construction on the new Fannin County Jail started last month. On Tuesday, county officials got an update on the progress.

County commissioners, the county judge, sheriff and the public met Tuesday to discuss construction and the allocation of funds for the new 'Fannin County Detention Center'.

The jail is being sponsored by private investors and will be run by the Community Education Center and Fannin County.

It is a project that Fannin County Sheriff Kenneth Moore says will help the community.

"In my opinion it is going to help the tax base in Fannin County because you’re going to have more people working at this facility who are going to spend money."

The $22.5 million project should be finished by September 4, 2009.

Anonymous said...

CEC's in Bowie County (Texarkana) too. Maybe their Sheriff gets paid!

Anonymous said...

Speaking of that, how much contraband gets in via guards v. incoming arrestees?

Depends if its prison or county jail. Prison, probably all of it. County jail probably most from those arrested.

And most of the stuff u listed that really was abuse, was in the civilian world not the jail/prison system.

And I understand that it has been ruled unconstitutional grits, but it should not have been.