County Progress asked Brandon Wood, executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (Commission), to address some of the relevant issues facing county jails.
Q: How did the 83rd Session of the Texas Legislature affect the Commission and Texas county jails?
A: The Texas Commission on Jail Standards had no significant pieces of legislation affect the operation of the agency. Further, the Commission was not directed to mandate any new requirements or promulgate new administrative rules. The Commission is working with the Department of State Health Services to write administrative rules for a new pilot program that will allow a private vendor or Local Mental Health Authority to operate a jail-based competency restoration program. As of today, the pilot program is slated for only one or two jails for the next biennium.
Q: Aside from budgetary matters, what role should members of the Commissioners Court play when it comes to their county jails?
A: The Commission believes that members of the Commissioners Court should become acquainted with jail operations through regular visits of the county jail to observe some of the challenges that jailers and sheriffs face on a daily basis.
Q: What is the No. 1 challenge facing county jails today?
A: The issue of handling inmates with mental illness continues to challenge all sheriffs across the state. While the state has allocated more resources to mental health this biennium, it may take some time for the effects to be measured in the county jail.
Q: Please define a “blue warrant” and what these warrants mean to county jails?
A: A blue warrant is a warrant issued by the Board of Pardons and Parole when a parolee has violated the conditions of his or her parole or has a committed a new offense while on parole. For county jails, the offender is placed in the county jail until a hearing can be held on the technical violations or for the inmate to adjudicate his or her case on the new charges. For jails, that means that bed space is occupied by state inmates for significant amounts of time.
Q: What are the keys to retaining jail staff?
A: Aside from competitive pay and benefits, research has indicated that job satisfaction strategies may help keep valued employees. Task variety, increase in job difficulty and responsibility, as well as training opportunities to increase professionalism are just some of the job satisfaction strategies that administrators may wish to employ to reduce staff turnover.