Diane Wilson, co-founder of Texas Jail Project, has described the misery of being numb with cold and wrapping her arms with toilet paper…but people think anybody with air conditioning is a “lucky dog.” Now, listen to the current “conditioning” in the Eastland County Jail: “They have the AC set as low as it will go, they say they will have it ‘fixed’ but do nothing. the inmates are freezing, teeth chattering, their bunks are like ice and the inmates tried to cover the vent and the officers removed the covering …” And she reports that if family members complain, the officers take it out on the inmates.
Conditions in County Jails
A medical officer at a Texas county jail wrote us about her job & what inmates need to know. This is exactly the kind of thing we need to hear this from those working inside jails, especially since more people have died in just the past few weeks–inmates in Gregg and Bexar and Ector counties.
“To My Inmates,
Yes, I call you “my” Inmates. Sometimes I even call you my kids. There are 600 of you and one of me, the Medical Sgt. I am a nurse. I care what happens to you. I care what your family is going through while you are here. When I interviewed for my job I was asked what would be the most difficult thing I felt I might have to go through. My answer…… losing one of you. A death in custody. You are my responsibility.”
During the last session, we informed lawmakers about the need for study of how county jails use solitary confinement or seclusion cells for housing mentally ill inmates. But the Texas Sheriffs Association and others forced the removal of county jails from SB 1003, and the questions remain. Reporters and lawyers and families ask us for information and the jails stonewall everyone, as more and more cases are revealed, where mentally ill people are being locked in solitary cells for weeks and months–growing sicker and often committing suicide. Here is the one page information handout we have on use of seclusion; let us know if you’d like to help us work on this issue.
“Unlock The Box: The Fight Against Solitary Confinement in New York” reveals how the fight against the use of solitary confinement is spreading as grim accounts and numbers reveal the overuse of isolation. Bonnie Kerness, director of the Prison Watch Project from the American Friends Service Committee, has spoken out about this most punitive and damaging form of incarceration for years. Here in Texas, a bill has been filed to curtail the use of prolonged isolation in state prisons, juvenile facilities, and county jails.
So people in jail without resources to get OUT of jail are now going to be charged for medical care while they are IN the jail! Yes, more and more jails are charging fees for any and all medical care. Dallas Couny has formulated its plan for taxing poor people and their families:
Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez recently announced that she will soon . . . . implement the plan to charge inmates a medical co-payment by tapping money in their commissary accounts, which they use to buy such items as toiletries and snacks. Inmates and their families put money in the accounts.
A jailer wrote to us, telling us of positive changes at the jail we were all concerned about. This account has to be anonymous to respect the privacy and protect the job of this correctional officer. We hope to hear from more jailers. “There have been so many good changes since you and the chaplains and the
Texas Jail Project has been monitoring the number of complaints and calls for help from inmates inside Dallas County Jail, and the numbers are down. This week, one mother in California who was worried about her son reported that she was relieved to hear her son had received treatment for the flu that many inmates have right now. This is good news, but we still look for more improvement, since the #1 search term used most often on the Texas Jail Project website is Lew Sterritt, the name of the Dallas county jail – and that’s because a lot of people are looking for information and help in dealing with this jail.
The Abilene Reporter ran a piece at the end of February providing a forum for Sheriff Les Bruce (above left) in which he describes the superiority of the Abliene jailers over Houston jailers and says they committ very few “errors.” TJP’s Director– and many citizens in Abllene–beg to differ. Read Claitor’s comment she posted at the newspaper.
On January 4, Ricardo Guzman got a haircut. The 43-year-old San Antonio resident wanted to look good when he turned himself in at court the next day for outstanding drug-possession charges. Guzman had no way of knowing that trusting himself to Bexar County could play a part in his death three days later.
“If the jail loses it’s certification, it has to be shut down. Sheriff McRae says they can’t expand the jail because they would lose their certification. The Texas Commission on Jails, the state’s governing board on Jails, has grandfathered the Walker County Jail. This allows them to operate even while having the problems they do.”