Sandra Bland Deadlines, Paper-Ready Inmates
As we begin FY21, there are two items for county officials to be aware of. These two items are the last portions of the 85th Legislature’s Senate Bill 1849, commonly referred to as the Sandra Bland Act, and their effective dates.
The first deals with how quickly a county must provide access to medical and mental health services. When first passed into law, the way the bill was written did not provide any flexibility. Counties were required to provide access 24 hours a day and utilize telehealth and telemental health to accomplish this. The language was amended in 2019 by House Bill 4468, and counties now have options on how to accomplish these requirements including the ability to transport if these services are not available at the jail. The amended legislation also includes language such as “within a reasonable time.” Jails were required to submit an addendum to their Health Services Plan designating how this would be accomplished, and as of Sept. 1 of this year, all counties are required to follow their approved plan.
The second item is less strenuous and deals with your jailers. Any jailer who was licensed prior to Sept. 1, 2017, is required to complete an 8-hour mental health training course by Aug. 31, 2021. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards (Commission) has been offering this course free of charge since December 2017, and a majority of the licensed jailers have already taken it. We intend to use this last year to identify those who have not already taken it and remind them of the requirement. Additional classes are being scheduled, and I encourage you to check with your sheriff on the status of this mandate along with the access to medical and mental health services. Jailers who were licensed after September 2017 have already received this training, either as a supplement to their basic jailer course, or as part of the revised basic jailer course approved by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE).
Hopefully, some of you were contacted regarding the Sunset review currently being conducted. Every 12 years, state agencies are reviewed by the independent Sunset Commission to determine if they are still performing the mission they were created to carry out, how effective they are, and whether to recommend changes for the legislature to consider. We do not expect any major changes regarding field operations, but we are hopeful that they are able to identify areas in which we can improve and become more efficient.
As with everyone else, the agency has been utilizing video conferencing since March. If you have never attended a Commission meeting, I would encourage you to do so virtually. The web address for the meetings is posted on our website as part of the agenda approximately two weeks before the meeting at https://www.tcjs.state.tx.us/meetings/. Our next meeting is Nov. 5.
Many counties have asked the agency if the state will be reimbursing for paper-ready inmates who have been held in your jail for longer than 45 days. While the legislature has not appropriated any funds for this, a county can apply for grant funding. As part of the Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding (CESF) program, $41 million was made available to local governments. One of the acceptable uses of these funds is reimbursement for housing inmates. If you have not done so, contact the Governor’s Public Safety Office to find out the details and requirements for applying.
I would like to make sure everyone is aware that the Commission has been working with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to coordinate the transfer of your paper-ready inmates. Each Friday, we review the list of which counties sent inmates and rank counties in order of criticality for the next week to 10 days. So if your sheriff or someone else says that the Commission is calling asking about your population, it is not to issue you a notice of non-compliance for possibly being over-crowded; it is to see where you are population-wise. While most counties understand and make sure we have the most up-to-date numbers possible, others have misplaced my phone number. This results in the county being placed further down the list because we are unable to make a determination, so remind your sheriff to call us back. You might also remind your sheriff to call and tell us before he or she reaches capacity, not after.
We look forward to working with you during this next legislative session. We welcome the opportunity to assist you in operating your jail as efficiently and safely as possible, and we encourage you to contact us with any concerns or ideas.
By Executive Director Brandon Wood, TCJS and Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt, Chair, TCJS