Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Consultant: Dallas jail understaffed, lacking accountability

Kevin Krause at the Dallas News has the backstory of how a consultant costing taxpayers more than half a million dollars is trying to help the Dallas County Jail pass inspection for the first time in 8 years ("Consultants brought in to help Dallas County jail finally pass inspection," Nov. 28). Here are a couple of notable excerpts:
The jail population has grown by about 1,000 inmates this year despite falling crime rates and fewer people being booked into the jails. The consultants say the county's criminal justice system is prosecuting inmates much slower than it was only a year earlier.

When the jails failed inspection in March 2009, it came as a blow to county commissioners. They had authorized more than $170 million in improvements, including a new jail tower, in an attempt to fix inadequate staffing, poor sanitation and maintenance, and faulty fire-safety systems.

Two months later, the commissioners sought outside help. They signed a contract with Griffith, who served as Jefferson County's sheriff for eight years and its county judge for a decade. The firm has been paid $537,494 through August 2010, records show.

One of the firm's first assessments was that the Sheriff's Department did not hold employees responsible for problems that persisted. Some inside the agency agreed.
Krause reports that consultants found initial resistance to their recommendations and
could not get the data they needed fast enough.

"They don't seem to have the same sense of urgency that we like to operate with," [consultant Richard] Kirkland wrote. 
[Sheriff Lupe] Valdez said there is always initial resistance whenever an outside agency is brought in to study an organization's operations. She said it was "quickly resolved with open communication and teamwork."

The state requires one guard to supervise every 48 inmates. Despite spending millions in overtime, the sheriff could not keep up. As a result, the county was spending too much money on overtime and contributing to burnout among officers, the consultants concluded.

They quickly discovered the problem: The jails were fully staffed on paper, but the sheriff had problems filling shifts because of unplanned absences.

"Our review of the Sheriff's Office indicates a stressed and overworked agency that does not appear to have the time or the 'system' to address these issues," the consultants wrote in a status report.

Griffith devised a more accurate staffing plan and then recommended more jail guard positions to help plug the holes, which commissioners approved. Valdez said that her agency had already identified the need for more officers and that Griffith "validated our findings."
I sent an email to the media relations person at the Dallas Sheriff asking for the various status reports from this consultant and may have more to say on this subject after I've seen the primary documents.

1 comment:

Phelps said...

Here's an idea -- stop throwing people in the jails for vicimless crimes like drug possession and raiding strip clubs and poker games.