Latest Meeting Recap
By Burnet County Judge Donna Klaeger
The Texas Commission on Jail Standards (Commission) heard from several members of the public regarding the treatment of pregnant inmates during the public comment portion of the Commission’s Aug. 7 meeting in Austin.
Representatives from the Texas Jail Project, Moms Rising, and Mamas of Color Rising spoke about two recent high-profile cases of pregnant inmates in county jails. The cases of Nicole Guerrero in Wichita County and Jessica De Samito in the Guadalupe County jail prompted the groups to speak about the care of pregnant inmates and urge the Commission to provide greater oversight and best-practice information on the care of pregnant inmates. Commission Chairman Donna Klaeger, Burnet County Judge, advised the audience that Commissioners could not speak directly about their concerns during public comment, but that the Commission would address the issue in the November meeting, as well as form a work group committee.
In old business action, Commission members were given a copy of the recently submitted five-year strategic plan. The plan is statutorily mandated for all state agencies and kicks off the budget process. Commission Executive Director Brandon Wood asked members to review the document and provide any comment regarding the performance of the agency.
Wood also reviewed the agency’s Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) with Commissioners. The agency’s baseline budget is slightly over $900,000 per year, and the agency requested three exceptional items for additional travel funds so that Commissioners could attend and participate in conferences and training sessions in the next biennium. In addition, the agency requested a full-time administrative position and additional funds for salary increases for agency employees. Wood advised Commissioners that the LAR instructions also required that agencies submit 5 percent and 10 percent funding reduction schedules. In addition, Wood indicated that Commission staff has developed a contingency plan to address what is considered a worst-case scenario.
In final old business, Commissioners heard an update on Harris County’s long-term planning and received results of jail population forecasts from Sam Houston State University staff. Dr. Gaylene Armstrong, chairman of the Department of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State, advised Commission members that they project Harris County to have a county population of 4.9 million by 2020, and the jail population could reach 10,344 inmates by 2020. The July 1, 2014, jail population for Harris County was 8,768, and current capacity is 10,122. Armstrong advised the Commission that they used jail booking and release data and historical data for the average daily jail population. Armstrong told the Commission that seasonal fluctuations and county policy decision-making could alter the forecasts.
Commissioners also took up Harris County’s variance request for the Joint Processing Center (JPC), currently in the planning stages. Harris County is requesting that the county be allowed to operate seven 72-bed direct supervision dormitories. Current Minimum Jail Standards do not allow dormitories and dayrooms to have a capacity greater than 48 inmates. Harris County officials advised that the JPC would maintain the 1:48 staffing ratio by using rovers, in conjunction with the direct supervision jailer. The JPC is scheduled to begin construction next year and be completed by 2016. Commissioners voted unanimously for the variance, with the variance subject to review at the annual inspection.
Finally, Wood asked that the Commission create a work group to examine an existing Minimum Jail Standard regarding the testing of emergency power equipment. Wood stated that recent inspections brought the need to clarify the method of testing the emergency generator and whether the usual method of killing power at the breaker was more than what the current National Electrical Code required. Bexar County officials advised the Commission that killing power, rather than testing the automatic transfer switch, would interrupt other county offices, including the court system, and was more than code requirements. Commissioners agreed to form a committee.
TCJS Data Reports
- Completed Jail Projects: Guadalupe County, court holding project; Montgomery County, kitchen addition.
- Jails in Compliance/Non-Compliance: 242 jails in compliance, three jails in non-compliance.
- Status and Composition of Jail Populations as of June 1
- Total population increased by 1,311 from the previous month.
- County jails are collectively operating at 71.57 percent capacity; one jail is at 100 percent or more of capacity.
- 37 TDCJ half-way house inmates are housed in county facilities.
- Local facilities are housing 116 out-of-state inmates from New Mexico and Arkansas in five facilities.
- Total number of contract inmates is 9,238 (county, federal, TDCJ, and out-of-state).
For a full report on the Aug. 7 meeting, visit the Commission website at www.tcjs.state.tx.us. The Commission’s next meeting will take place Nov. 6.