Latest Meeting Recap
By Burnet County Judge Donna Klaeger
The Texas Commission on Jail Standards (Commission) voted to publish two new changes to Standards for adoption and comment in the Texas Register at its quarterly Commission meeting on Feb. 6 in Austin. The proposed Standards will add the loss of good time credit as a sanction for a minor infraction, and clarify when bedding and lines should be given to inmates. The Commission also voted to extend the use of variance beds in the Harris County Jail, though less than what county officials had requested.
In old business action, the nine-member Commission voted to modify previously proposed language regarding the bedding and linen Minimum Jail Standard. The bedding and linen Standard change was originally proposed at the Commission’s November 2013 meeting; however, opposition to the proposed language regarding the issuance of bedding and linens to inmates in holding and detox cells prompted Commission Chairman Donna Klaeger, Burnet County Judge, to form a workgroup. Commission Executive Director Brandon Wood provided a summary of the workgroup conference call to the Commission. After discussion, Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter made a motion to modify the language for inmates in holding and detoxification cells, and the Commission voted unanimously to adopt.
The Commission also voted to publish a proposed change to Standard regarding inmate discipline by adding the loss of good conduct credit as a sanction for a minor fraction. Current rules only allow the forfeiture of good conduct credit for a major violation. The proposed change to the Standard was prompted after a county official believed that the Standard was not aligned with state statute. Klaeger appointed a workgroup, which suggested that the inmate discipline Standard be amended. The Commission voted unanimously to publish the proposed change for public comment in the Texas Register. For the exact wording of the proposed change, go to http://www.tcjs.state.tx.us/docs/MeetingMinutesCurrent.pdf.
In other old business items, the Commission voted to remove remedial orders and received updates on counties having difficulty maintaining and achieving compliance.
In new business, Assistant Director Shannon Herklotz advised the Commission of a new partnership between the Commission and the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) to create online training for Texas jailers. The first course, currently in the final stages of development, is the Objective Jail Classification program. The class is required before jailers can classify inmates; because of limited resources to attend or provide training, many jailers may wait months or years before being able to take the course. With the new web-based course, jailers will be able to receive the four-hour training without accruing significant agency costs. Herklotz advised that the class will be tested prior to rolling out, and the hope is to have the course ready by spring 2014. Herklotz advised that the partnership hopes to develop additional courses in the future.
In variance requests, the Commission reviewed an application from Harris County to extend the county’s use of variance beds. Harris County had previously been granted 680 variance beds in which the county used portable plastic bunks, commonly known as low riders or boats. In its application to extend the variance, the county asked to install 680 permanent double-bunks, increasing the capacity to 1,064 beds. The county also requested a variance to use 100 low riders. After considerable discussion about the county’s efforts to utilize alternatives to incarceration, population projections, and strategic planning, the Commission granted an extension of 680 total variance beds, whether permanent or boat beds.
Also in variance requests, the Commission extended Cameron County’s variance for its court holding cells. The cells, located in a stairway landing, have doors that swing into the cell rather than the required open into the direction of egress. Because the cells are on stairway landings, the requirement to open into the direction of egress would be unsafe. The Commission approved the variance without an expiration date; the cells will be reviewed during each annual inspection.
In final business, the Commission received an update on the status of construction, compliance and inmate populations.
- Completed Jail Projects: Dallas County Court Holding
- Jails in Compliance/Non-Compliance: 240 jails in compliance and six jails in non-compliance.
- Status and Composition of Jail Populations as of Jan. 1, 2014:
- Total population in Texas county jails decreased by 2,818 from the previous month. Statewide capacity increased by 12 due to a re-count of beds in Parker County.
- County jails are now collectively operating at 66.99 percent of capacity.
- Two jails are at 100 percent or more of capacity.
- Some 43 TDCJ halfway house inmates are housed in county facilities.
- Local facilities are housing 184 out-of-state inmates (New Mexico and Arkansas) in five facilities.
The total number of contract inmates (county, federal, TDCJ and out-of-state) is 8,322.