The Texas Commission on Jail Standards received updates from five counties at its regular quarterly meeting conducted last month in Austin, addressing the resolution of their non-compliance issues. Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price informed Commission members that a rising inmate population was creating delays in their efforts to repair the smoke and fume removal systems at the North Tower. Price advised that the renovation process will require Dallas County to repopulate the George Allen facility once the facility is approved for occupancy, and that all repairs are scheduled for completion by July.
Maverick and Wichita county officials apprised the Commission of their progress in repairing structural problems in their respective counties. Maverick County Judge Jose Aranda told the Commission that an architect and engineer had been retained in order to correct foundation problems and that the work should begin shortly. Aranda further stated that during the repair process, inmates will be removed from the affected areas to other parts of the jail in order to ensure a safe and secure environment at all times.
Wichita County Judge Woody Gossom advised the Commission that a solution had been found for their facility’s leaky roof; however, recent snow, ice and rain storms were hampering their efforts to start the repairs. Gossom stated that inmates were being moved to unaffected areas of both the jail and the annex, and inmates were also being housed in neighboring counties. Gossom stated his belief that they have a better operation today because of inspections and assistance provided by the TCJS. He noted that it was very important that he and his commissioners walk through the facility and suggested that other counties follow this practice. Wichita County is looking at long-term solutions to their overcrowding issue.
Dimmitt County Jail Administrator Leticia Vargas informed the Commission that Dimmitt County had corrected their staff licensing issue, and Dimmitt County was ready for re-inspection.
Hays County Commissioner Will Conley advised the Commission that the county had contracted the use of a mobile kitchen, and the mobile kitchen was ready for use. Conley stated that kitchen and roof repairs were underway, and that the roof should be repaired by March with kitchen repairs completed soon after. The Commission voted to rescind a stayed remedial order issued at the Nov. 5, 2009 meeting.
There was a consistent message from the counties regarding the importance of keeping facilities repaired and well maintained to save costs of extensive repairs in the future.
The TCJS is appointed by the governor, and its members consist of a county judge, county commissioner, two sheriffs, a physician, and members of the public. The Commission reminded those in attendance that decisions are made from information provided by TCJS staff and counties, and that the goal is to continue to work together to provide safe and secure facilities in Texas for employees and inmates.
The Commission voted to publish and receive comments regarding proposed standards. One of the proposed standards will fulfill requirements set forth in Senate Bill 1009 by providing information about the complaints process against facilities and the Commission itself.
The second proposed change will add a question to the variance application form regarding a county’s efforts to find alternatives to incarceration.
During the meeting several counties discussed over-crowding issues and the high cost of “shipping” inmates to other facilities. Grayson County shared diversion practices that have reduced shipping from more than 100 inmates to four to 12 inmates per day.
In other action, several counties planning new facilities requested that the Commission not require automatic sprinkler systems in inmate-occupied areas. As minimum jail standards provide for life-safety standards of early detection and alarm, smoke control and removal systems, and means of egress and door control, the Commission does not require the use of automatic sprinkler systems in inmate-occupied areas. The commissioners voted to not require the automatic sprinkler in planned facilities for Carson, Jones and Kleberg counties.
The Commission conducted general discussions on several issues including its role in the Legislative process, suggestions for new rules, best practices to assist counties in reducing cost, mental health issues, and expenditures for the 2010-11 biennium.
Commission staff provided an update of the Sunset Review, Senate Bill 1009 mandates, and Commission progress to date, and a U.S. Survey of Corrections Mental Health Policy review, which addresses the overall efforts of states in addressing mental illness.
The majority of the meeting was spent discussing the current status of the more than 600 current minimum jail standards and the rule-making process. During the discussion, commissioners discussed the need to review current minimum jail standards in an effort to update and possibly delete outdated rules codified in the Texas Administrative Code.
Together with Commission staff, commissioners advised that they would begin the process of reviewing and possibly updating minimum jail standards at the next meeting in May. Input regarding jail standards is welcome and can be directed to staff and/or Commission members.
The Commission will continue to address standards, common issues, and continued communications to enhance the effectiveness of the TCJS at quarterly meetings.
The next Commission meeting is scheduled for May 5, 2010, and will once again be held in the John H. Reagan building in Austin.
By Burnet County Judge Donna Klaeger, Chairman, Texas Commission on Jail Standards