The Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) is under Sunset Review in 2008. TCJS held public meetings during the first quarter of 2008 and has recently submitted a survey to county judges and sheriffs to receive testimony and written comments on policies, procedures and customer service.
A Strategic Planning Session was conducted on April 30 to review input received from various individuals representing counties, agencies and organizations and to receive staff recommendations.
Issues reviewed and recommendations received include:
Complaints: A database has been created for the logging and tracking of all complaints received by the agency to allow for more accurate record keeping and reporting of complaint totals and types. TCJS staff will be able to respond to any open records requests for complaints in a more timely fashion. This database will also allow staff to detect any possible trends that are developing at a facility and take a more pro-active approach to complaint resolutions in the future.
Jail Inspections/Technical Assistance: Currently each inspector is assigned 64 facilities for annual inspections. After a review of jail building projects planned or currently underway, it is projected that the capacity of Texas jails will increase by approximately 10,000 beds by 2010. Staffing increases will be recommended to assist in a manageable number of inspections and to increase technical assistance to facilities dealing with non-compliance or at-risk facilities, which is one of the major requests by counties. This assistance reduces the liability the counties are exposed to and demonstrates potential cost savings to counties.
Cost of Construction: The staff of TCJS has recommended a review of the current life safety requirements. The charge includes a review of nationally recognized codes, approaches in other states, and comments/recommendations from design professionals to include architects and engineers involved in the correctional field, operators of facilities and fire protection specialists.
Mental Health and Medical Services Provided for Inmates at County Jails: TCJS constantly explores the treatment of inmates and better solutions for the care and custody of inmates with mental health issues. This is a major issue across the state. Best practices will be sought out, with information disseminated to sheriffs’ departments. The Commission is currently a member of the advisory council for the Texas Council on Offenders with Mental Impairments (TCOOMI) and serves as a conduit for information between the counties and state policymakers regarding mental health/mental retardation issues and county jail inmates, in particular the Case Assignment and Registration (CARE) System. It is anticipated that TCOOMI will be requesting that the CARE system forms be modified to require that additional information be submitted which may have an impact on counties.
Surprise/Unannounced Inspections: The majority of testimony received indicates that the agency should continue as per current policy with the majority of the inspections being announced. Surprise or unannounced inspections are primarily done when areas of concern are present, including documented inmate and citizen complaints. Re-inspections will remain unannounced, and the sheriff/operator will continue to correspond with TCJS when all non-compliant issues have been corrected and are ready for re-inspection.
Additional Training and Interaction with Counties: TCJS will continue to maintain and expand cooperation and interaction with associations across the State of Texas.
Strategic Plan: Legislative organization necessitates an interim update of the TCJS Strategic Plan which will be performed by staff for review and approval of the TCJS.
On May 1, the TCJS met in regular session.
Two counties’ noncompliance issues were reviewed, with evidence that both counties were working diligently to implement corrective measures, and one new remedial order was placed limiting the population of the jail to the number of available staff and the approved capacity and classification of each housing unit. Currently there are 43 jails that are non-compliant, 208 jails that are compliant, and 17 closed jails.
Seven counties were granted variances to not install automatic sprinkler systems in inmate-occupied areas for safety reasons. There will be a recommended change in this requirement for the future.
Bastrop County requested and received a reclassification of their temporary facility to a permanent minimum security facility, as the facility was built to meet compliancy with all standards. Kudos to the foresight of the county to ensure that the facility was built structurally sound and secure, which resulted in great cost savings to their citizens.
A suggested change to the laundry standard was approved and will be published in the Texas Register for comment. 277.2: AN EXCHANGE (replaces change) of clothing shall be furnished at least once a week unless work, climatic conditions, illness, or other factors necessitate more frequent exchange to assure cleanliness.
As a new TCJS Commissioner, the Sunset Review has already provided an excellent opportunity to learn about the history of the Jail Commission, current changes in the environment, and what we need to focus on in the future. I have found that the staff of TCJS is committed to empower local government to provide safe, secure and suitable local jail facilities, to provide professional assistance to counties in achieving compliancy, and to explore all opportunities to create efficient, cost-saving procedures and processes. I encourage you to contact Executive Director Adan Munoz with questions, concerns and ideas!
By Burnet County Judge Donna Klaeger, TCJS Vice Chair