County Progress asked Terry Julian, Executive Director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS), to address some of the relevant issues facing county jails.
Q: What level of involvement should the commissioners court have with the county jail?
A: County commissioners should have oversight of issues affecting the sheriff’s jail budget. County commissioners are also required by statute to ensure that the jail complies with the Minimum Jail Standards promulgated by the TCJS. Managing the day-to-day operations of the jail is the responsibility of the sheriff. Jail operations run the smoothest when the county commissioners and the sheriff have good communication and work together to meet the challenges of the jail.
Q: What is the current blue warrant status?
A: As of April 1, 2005, there were 5,452 blue warrant inmates in the county jails, and 2,969 of those inmates were facing new charges. Blue warrants generally make up 3 percent to 4 percent of county jail inmates.
Q: Are there any new changes in regulations?
A: There was one small change in the language of Rule 273.4, which addresses inmate health records. The term “criminal justice facility” was changed to “criminal justice entity” in subsection C. This was mainly to clean up the language of the rule and will not have much functional impact on how counties operate.
Q: What are the primary problems facing Texas county jails?
A: The most significant problems currently facing Texas county jails are the trends in the special populations that make up the jails. The percentage of female inmates in jails has been going up consistently. This poses some logistical problems because female inmates have to be “sight and sound separated” from male inmates. This can contribute to overcrowding because many jails were not designed to accommodate the recent increases in the female inmate population.
Q: What can counties do to ensure safe and secure county jails?
A: The best thing that counties can do is to maintain adequate staffing levels and ensure that these staff members continually receive training. This not only decreases the likelihood of assaults and escapes, but it also helps reduce the counties’ liability should legal problems occur.
Q: What can counties do to prevent high turnover of jail staff?
A: The best thing that counties can do to be able to retain qualified and professional jail staff is to compensate employees fairly. Good wages usually increase the degree of professionalism of the staff by attracting more applicants and retaining existing employees.
Incentives and awards for good service are another way that jails can retain professional staff. Even a certificate of recognition or a $25 gift certificate for doing a good job can go a long way toward staff retention. It should be remembered that a reduction in jail staff turnover also contributes to the overall safety of the community.
Terry Julian, Executive Director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards