For all practical purposes, it was a relatively quiet legislative session when it comes to county jails, and I am glad. No bills were passed that directly impact how your jail operates; however, two bills could potentially assist your operations.
The first one, Senate Bill 22, can assist counties with a population of 300,000 or less with salaries for jailers. As everyone can attest, staffing continues to be a major challenge for almost every county across the state. It’s an issue that impacts everyone, from our small rural jails to our large urban ones. At the same time, inmate populations continue to rise, placing additional pressures on the need for staffing. Courts continue to work through the backlog but not nearly at the pace that is needed in most areas. This reinforces the need to ensure that all parts of your local criminal justice system are communicating and working together. If they are not, your inmate population will grow more than it needs to, resulting in an increase to your county’s costs. This is where House Bill 2620 may provide some relief. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is mandated to reimburse counties for inmates that have their pen packet submitted if they remain in the county jail longer than 45 days. This has been a point of concern for many counties for several years and will hopefully provide an incentive for the state to pick its inmates up in a timely manner at all times.
As many of you remember, the Sunset Review and accompanying legislation passed in 2021 changed our inspection process quite a bit. Recognizing that the agency did not have sufficient staff to conduct an on-site inspection of every facility each year, the recommendation was made to shift the inspection program from an annual model to a risk-based model. Part of the theory behind this is for the agency to not spend as much time and as many resources on higher-performing jails, thus freeing up those resources to focus on the lower-performing jails. This has been completely implemented as of Sept. 1, 2023. While the basics remain the same, how the agency does the basics have changed. After searching for existing risk-based inspection programs, it was determined that while risk-based analysis is used in many areas, there were no examples in use for jails or prisons.
The agency developed a system that ensured we were carrying out our statutory mandate of safe and secure jails while also maintaining a level of fairness to the jails being inspected. As we took input from our stakeholders on what the new program would look like, agency staff began creating a model which included the development of a risk assessment tool to help guide the schedule for inspections. This tool, developed with the assistance of Sam Houston State University, initially relied upon four years of inspection data to predict inspection results. The first two years of inspection results and provision of technical assistance were entered into statistical software that helped identify correlations which were then assigned values. These values were then used to create a predictive model that was compared to actual results for the third year. The results were extremely encouraging as it accurately predicted jails that would fail or pass their inspection. As an example, the model predicted 98 jails in the lowest category would pass their next inspection, and 92 of them did. The remaining six were reviewed as “false negatives” to determine why they did not pass. Those jails had major issues that were not present the previous year, such as employees working without even a temporary license.
The inspection process itself was also overhauled. This included incorporating Generally Accepted Accounting Standards, receiving input from stakeholders, and the development of what has been designated a “Limited Compliance Review,” which is similar to a desk audit. If your jail is not running into issues, there is a very real possibility that an inspector will not be on-site for almost two years. A limited compliance review will ensure that the jail remains on the right track in between the on-site inspections. We believe this will be an effective approach to addressing the needs of our counties across the state.
I hope this will give a clearer direction on future inspections and changes implemented.
By Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt