By Burnet County Judge Donna Klaeger, Chairman, Texas Commission on Jail Standards
The Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS or Commission) met in regular session on Aug. 4.
The Commission staff noted that sheriffs, commissioners courts, and judicial systems in counties are working together to address issues at local levels, which has attributed to one of the lowest counts of "non-compliancy" in the history of the Commission.
TCJS commissioners addressed the need for counties to travel to meetings to discuss issues and concerns, understanding the costs associated with time, lodging and gas. Counties with life safety and security issues will be required to attend TCJS meetings. Other issues can be addressed in writing and will be presented to the TCJS commissioners by TCJS staff.
Commissioners reviewed an updated report, which follows direction of the Sunset Review: Risk Assessment of Non-Complaint and At Risk Jails; the report addresses many comments received from elected officials about inclusion of administrative issues.
The Commission members then turned their attention to the 82nd Legislature and the changes that will affect Jail Standards. TCJS Chair Judge Donna Klaeger initiated discussion with the following statement regarding a bill that proposed a new jail-inspection fee: "With assistance from county judges, commissioners, sheriffs, Jim Allison, the Texas Association of Counties, and the Conference of Urban Counties…the BILL DID NOT PASS. Your efforts are appreciated, and your concerns were heard." The failure of this bill needs to be publicized, considering misinformation such as a recently published article from a Hill County budget workshop that incorrectly stated "… the state is imposing a new jail-inspection fee, and that amount hasn’t been announced by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards."
“THIS IS NOT CORRECT,” Klaeger emphasized. “TCJS WAS NOT MANDATED BY LEGISLATION TO IMPOSE A NEW JAIL INSPECTION FEE.”
While legislation made few changes in statutes, the budget cuts remained a challenge. For example, budget cuts resulted in the Commission's loss of three employees in clerical positions. Duties have been absorbed by the remaining 16 employees. In addition:
v Senate Bill 1209 regarding juvenile age to adult status in jails is under interpretation review.
v Senate Bill 1687 and Senate Bill 1698 require additional information be collected at the jails and sent to TCJS on a monthly basis; require jails to report on the monthly population report the number of jailers who left employment that month; and require jails to report the number of criminal aliens detained.
The related forms for these new requirements are in the development phase and will be due at the same time as other required reports. This information should be able to be integrated into software systems for easy data conversion.
The Licensed Jail Turnover Report legislation requires an amendment to TCJS in order to comply. The Commission voted to publish the proposed change to standards in the Texas Register for Comment, to be reviewed at the November 2011 meeting.
In other business, meeting participants discussed the status of Jail Standards updates that had been previously reviewed. The TCJS commissioners agreed that the process should continue, acknowledging that all past reviews would need to "start over" as time limitations to adopt had passed. There were many lessons learned in the 2010 workshops, which will help as the TCJS moves forward with this important project.
The Texas Commission on Jail Standards will conduct workshops beginning at 2:00 p.m. on the day before Commission meetings to continue discussions on Jail Standards revisions. The first meeting will be conducted on Wed., Nov. 2, location TBA. This first workshop will focus on organizing "the process" of the Standards Review. An agenda will be posted, with comments and open discussion with elected officials, advocacy groups, citizens, providers, etc. invited. There will be no action taken during workshops. Any issue requiring action will be addressed at the regular meeting of TCJS, to be conducted the next day. Please monitor the TCJS website at www.tcjs.state.tx.us for updated information.
Please know that your TCJS commissioners are engaged, and we are interested in learning about the effects of standards on your local government and operations. We look forward to working with you to continue to "assist local governments in providing safe, secure and suitable local jail facilities through our provision of our services." H