By Burnet County Judge Donna Klaeger, Chairman
In the regular quarterly meeting of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) conducted in Austin on May 6, Commissioners reviewed changes to the standards that had been recommended by the Sunset Advisory Committee, Senate Bill 1009. These included addressing the process regarding complaints against not only jails under the Commission’s purview but the Commission itself, and modifying the application form for variance to include a question regarding the county’s use of alternative to incarceration and re-entry efforts in an effort to reduce recidivism. Both proposed changes have been published in the Texas Register for comment and were voted to be published in the Texas Register for adoption.
Commission members clarified that the recommended change to the application form for variance to include “utilization of alternatives to incarceration, including diversion initiatives and re-entry efforts to reduce recidivism” would provide an opportunity for counties to share their initiatives so that other counties could benefit from their best practices. It was confirmed that if a county answers “none” to the question, it would not mean that the variance would be denied.
In a new change to standards, Commission members voted to publish the adding of the continuum-of-care query (CCQ) for required cross-referencing of state mental health databases. Commission members were advised that the CARE checks currently in use will be replaced by the CCQ by DPS in the near future.
Commission members also voted to adopt the inspection fee schedule with no increase to fees.
Updates were received on several counties regarding progress being made to bring their county jails into compliance. In addition, the Commission recognized the efforts of county officials who demonstrated diligence in working together to resolve life-safety issues.
Van Zandt County Jail and Commissioners Court representatives reviewed their plans to address cell doors in the jail that were unable to open remotely and required a key. Jail officials told the Commission that a shutdown of the affected cells would require the movement of 60 inmates and would cause a severe economic impact to the county. Commission members agreed with the request to allow the county 90 days to address the issue by unanimous vote. In the interim, jail officials are conducting 15-minute fire watches and are reducing the number of inmates in the affected cells.
After review and discussion with Grayson County officials, the Commission extended their variance for nine months. Grayson County was given a 49-bed variance in 2005 with the advisement that a building program would soon begin to relieve overcrowding. However, in the subsequent years, the county for various reasons has decided against new construction. In lieu of building a new jail, county officials advised Commission members that they are currently transforming minimum-security cells into maximum security cells with a projected completion date in August 2010. Grayson County Judge Drew Bynum noted that elected officials are working together to reduce inmate population and it’s working! The county has also contracted with other facilities to house inmates, as needed.
Commission staff reported that there was an increase in jail population by 1,308. The statewide capacity increased to 200 with Brazos and Midland County jail additions being populated. Currently, the statewide capacity rate is 73.44 percent with three jails operating at 100 percent capacity or more. In addition, the number of facilities currently under the Commission’s purview dropped to 246 with four private facilities being empty or housing federal prisoners only.
A comprehensive informal review of minimum jail standards was the highlight of the meeting. Commission Chairman Donna Klaeger, Burnet County judge, noted that it was very important to have input from sheriffs, jail administrators, judges and commissioners regarding jail standards, as many standards have been in effect since the formation of the agency. The Commission’s goal is to review all suggestions made by staff, county officials, and agencies in an attempt to ensure that the standards are needed for the protection of county employees and inmates, that the standards’ meanings are clearly stated, and that they will address issues affecting county jails and private facilities of all sizes and budgets.
Discussions were held on 22 staff recommendations to clarify existing minimum jail standards or deleting unenforceable standards. Among the non-binding recommendations is to add definitions of jailer, supervisor, and allied health personnel to ensure that job duties, responsibilities, and licensing requirements are made clear to all jail personnel.
In addition, to make the standards easier to find, the 48-hour limit for holding cells would be added to classification standards and to the definition of a holding cell. Currently, the 48-hour limit is found only in construction standards.
New minimum jail standards being recommended include adding restitution for damage to jail property as sanctions for major and minor infractions, and adding a standard requiring jails to provide written responses to requests for information in regard to inmate complaints.
Standards being recommended for clarification include whether individuals in holding cells will be given a full set of bedding; revising the sanitation plan regarding the water and sewage system by deleting the word “city”; amending the privacy shield standard §259.143(e) to accommodate direct supervision designs; and amending 259.150 to state that food passes shall be provided and shall be not less than 15 inches wide and four and one-half inches high. Other recommendations include changing all references of corrections/officer/staff to jailer to achieve uniformity among the standards.
The minimum jail standard being recommended for deletion is regarding §275.3 Correction Officer Pay. The standard recommends that corrections officer be paid equivalent to that of other appointed deputies of similar grade or status. Since the Commission has no authority over corrections officer pay, Commission staff recommended that the standard be deleted.
All of the recommendations will be distributed to key stakeholders through various media for comment prior to beginning the formal process of adopting changes to standards. For more information, visit the TCJS website, http://www.tcjs.state.tx.us, or e-mail email@example.com. Input regarding these revisions is encouraged, as well as suggestions for other additions, revisions or deletions.
Finally, Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter advised Commission members of the efforts of a sheriff’s committee to propose amendments to allow certified peace officers to receive jailer training in a 40-hour basic jailer’s course. The purpose of the modified online course would be to prevent duplicative training, save time and money, and make it easier for peace officers to work with county inmates.
The next commission meeting will be conducted Aug. 5, 2010, in the John H. Reagan Building in Austin.
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