Texas County Jails: Current Events
County Progress asked Adan Munoz, executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS), to address some of the relevant issues facing county jails.
Q: The TCJS just completed a Sunset Review. How will this review affect your future operations? The Sunset Review process was very beneficial to the agency and identified areas that will strengthen the ability of the agency in assisting county governments in providing safe and suitable jails. Some of the areas addressed include the addition of two staff positions, the use of more extensive risk factors for detecting jails at risk for non-compliance, and improving our information-sharing efforts. It was also recommended that more of the inspections be conducted on an unannounced basis, and beginning Sept.1st the percentage was increased from approximately 30 percent to 80 percent. This is not an attempt to play “gotcha,” but rather an effort to address an issue that was brought up during the Sunset Review process as to how this agency conducts its inspection process as compared to other regulatory entities.
Q: What is the No. 1 challenge facing county jails today? In a recent American Jails article, the No. 1 challenge for county jails across the nation is the efficient delivery of mental and medical health services, and that is true for Texas county jails as well.
Q: How can counties best address the problems associated with mentally ill inmates who end up in the county jail system? County jails have become de facto institutions, and there does not appear to be anything on the immediate horizon that will alter this situation. Identification of these individuals remains the best way to address the problem, and during the last legislative session, §16.22 of the Code of Criminal Procedure was amended in an effort to ensure magistrates are properly notified when an inmate is determined to be mentally ill.
Q: What measures should counties take to prevent jail overcrowding? First and foremost, counties should acknowledge that jail overcrowding is not just a jail problem, and that the jail is just one part of the criminal justice system. Counties should conduct a complete review of their criminal justice system in an effort to identify any inefficiencies or “bottlenecks” that could slow down the process. A comprehensive review of the problems could include time to trial, paper-ready inmates, etc., or developing systems for the possible release of non-violent misdemeanor and felony pre-trial inmates.
Q: What is the current blue warrant status? Efforts to address parole technical violators failed in the 81st Legislature. Testimonies before legislative subcommittees indicate that blue warrants remain a problem for county jails, particularly offenders with only technical violations.
Q: What can counties do to ensure safe and secure county jails? The mission of providing safe and suitable jails begins with a qualified and trained workforce, and sound management that ensures adherence to jail standards, proper inmate supervision, and preventative maintenance.
Q: What are the keys to retaining jail staff? Retention begins with recruiting quality individuals and determining what motivated them to apply for the position. Although competitive wages and benefits remain the primary issue, ensuring that the jail staff is provided a realistic career ladder and applicable, quality training is often cited as a factor in retention and should not be overlooked.
Q: Have there been any recent changes to the minimum standards? The 81st Legislature enacted new laws that will require several changes to minimum jail standards. The following are the proposed changes to standards that may be approved at the November meeting of the TCJS. Proposed changes are bolded.
Care of Pregnant Inmates
271.1(3) OBJECTIVE CLASSIFICATION PLAN
Custody levels and special housing needs shall be assessed to include minimum, medium and maximum custody levels and the placement and release of inmates to and from special units including protective custody, administrative separation, disciplinary separation, and mental and medical health housing including known pregnant inmates.
273.2 Health Services Plan
(5) provide procedures for medical, mental, nutritional requirements, special housing, and appropriate work assignments for known pregnant inmates;
273.4(a) HEALTH RECORDS
The health services plan shall included procedures for the maintenance of a separate health record on each inmate. The record shall include a health screening procedure administered by health personnel or by a trained booking officer upon the admission of the inmate to the facility and shall cover, but shall not be limited to, the following items:
(1) health history;
(2) current illnesses (prescriptions, special diets, and therapy);
(3) known pregnancy;
(4) current medical, mental, and dental care and treatment;
(5) behavioral observation, including state of consciousness and mental status; and
(5) inventory of bodily deformities, ease of movement, markings, conditions of body orifices, and presence of lice and vermin.
281.3 BALANCED DIET
Except in emergency situations, meals shall be served in accordance with a written menu approved and reviewed annually for compliance with nationally recognized allowances for basic nutrition including nutritional requirements of known pregnant inmates. This approval and review shall be documented and should be performed by a licensed or provisional licensed dietician.
289.1 WORK ASSIGNMENT AND SUPERVISION
Inmate work shall be assigned by staff with consideration for an inmate’s condition including known pregnancy. Inmate activities shall not be supervised by other inmates. Inmates shall not have access to inmate records, nor handle inmate monies or commissary accounts. Maintenance of locking systems and other security detention devices shall not be performed by inmates.
Death in Custody
269.1(5) DEATH IN CUSTODY
(5) Deaths in Custody Report
A. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards shall be notified of all deaths of inmates while in the custody of sheriff/operator within 24 hours of the death.
B. Upon conclusion of the investigation by the sheriff/operator or any other designated law enforcement agency, the sheriff or operator shall forward the Texas Attorney General Custodial Death Report form, autopsy report, and any information requested by the Commission to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards within 10 days.
C. The report on the death shall be made available for review by Commission staff upon request.
Mentally Ill Inmates
Procedures for intake screening to identify inmates who are known to be or observed to be mentally disabled and/or potentially suicidal and procedures for compliance with Code of Criminal Procedure Article 16.22 and referrals to available mental health officials.