Some sheriffs ignore the law when it comes to the constitutional rights of people held in their jails. Inmates have the right, for example, to receive and read publications, even when the sheriff or jailer doesn’t approve of the magazine, book, or newspaper. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards explains that in a letter posted on their website last fall, saying, “In other words, personal preferences of jail staff should not be a basis for banning a particular publication.” (See http://www.tcjs.state.tx.us/docs/TAMemoPrisonLegalNews.pdf) We here at Texas Jail Project hope the Jail Commission’s letter will reduce the number of Texas jails telling families “the only book your inmate is allowed is the Bible.”
A Texas jail may be a model for the newly proposed bill in California to ban the practice of dumping people out of county jails in the dark of night! Texas Jail Project feels some ownership of the idea: in 2011 we supported SB 1014 bill by bringing stories and people to the legislative committees, demonstrating cases of trauma and even death where Texans were released at rural and urban county jails. Senator Whitmire’s support and the grim accounts resulted in Harris County Jail stopping its policy of mass releases at night. This excellent article describes how California Senator Liu’s bill will try to ban their late night releases–a worthy goal in light of the tragic and needless death of Mitrice Richardson, a beautiful young woman released from the Malibu jail in the wee hours and later found dead.
In this new story picked up by the New York Times, a Henderson county lawyer complains about a judge who has the nerve to speak out about jail operations. “He has absolutely no business trying to be a doctor from the bench,” says Robert Davis. Of course, Judge Tarrance has all the business in the world doing that, since people have reported ongoing neglect and mistreatment –numerous cases! Texas Jail Project heard from a woman last week who was forced to stay in a cell totally naked and denied her right to call a lawyer or bailbondsman. And like most of the inmates, she was not yet convicted, but was being held pretrial.
So the county is outraged by a judge who took the unusual steps of ordering medical care and going public? We say it’s about time.
To BEXAR COUNTY families:
Bexar County’s sheriff is now Susan Pamerleau and she has said, “I pledge to the citizens of Bexar County to make public safety my number one priority, with a strong foundation of stewardship of taxpayer dollars; improvements in jail operations; and family violence prevention initiatives.”
Please email us at Diana@texasjailproject.org to report all experiences with the jail in the past year. Texas Jail Project also wants to know about diversion programs in Bexar County–how well are they serving the people of San Antonio?
When you are charged with a misdemeanor, you may think you will have a chance to prove your innocence, but that’s before you discover the reality—that you are now part of the assembly line justice system. This important story explains how people, innocent or not, “are pressured by judges, prosecutors, and their own lawyers into pleading guilty, often without knowledge of their rights or the nature of the charges against them. Bail makes it worse. Around 80 percent of defendants who have bail set cannot afford to pay it. Innocent defendants commonly plead guilty just to get out of jail. In this way, millions of Americans are punished without due process and learn the cynical lesson that, at least when it comes to minor offenses, law and evidence aren’t all that important.”
Is this a new day or what? Harris County’s Sheriff says, “We stay ahead of the curve…” and institutes a gay, lesbian, bisexual and trangender policy that is comprehensive and progressive. Sheriff Garcia of Houston is in charge of the third-largest county jail in the U.S., where 125,000 are booked annually. At least 2.8 percent identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Harris County’s new policy concerning inmates prohibits discrimination or harassment of any kind based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Now, we hope this means that LGBT inmates will also get good medical care and decent treatment–a concern since we are still hearing of Houston inmates of all genders and identifications who don’t necessarily get that while incarcerated there.
Not saying that caring for 8, 900 human beings is an easy job. Just saying it’s an important job to do right.
A new report states that Harris County defendents don’t receive jail time based on age, race, or the nature of the charge–it’s based on how much money they have: “What generally determines the defendants’ fate is his or her economic status.”
“If the accused is unable to afford financial bail, he or she will quickly learn, in Harris County, the punishment is weeks or months of pretrial incarceration,” say researchers from the Orange Jumpsuit Report. The hard data behind this important report corroborates what is known in poor communities all over Texas. In most of Texas 247 county jails, people without resources languish in pretrial detention–losing their jobs, their families, and sometimes their physical and mental health. The Texas Observer’s Emily DePrang succinctly summarizes the various complexities.
Grits for Breakfast is the criminal justice blog that includes political analysis by Scott Henson. Now Scott has said a mouthful about the unethical and shortsighted practice of building more jails “without costing taxpayers money” – a myth masking the reality of overincarceration.
But some sheriffs keep on telling their towns to build, build, build. Nueces County Sheriff Kaelin is one of those and he just keeps on pushing for more jails, ignoring the fact, as Henson says, that the underlying cause of most overcrowding is due to local judges and excessive bail requirements. Real solutions are found in good programs and pretrial services, not bigger jails.
Our sympathies to the family of Debra Ingram Duffie. I thought I had brought up an old email by mistake when I saw the words Inmate Dies at Gregg County Jail. Surely this was a story about one of others who’ve died there since 2010, like Amy Lynn and Aaron, and previously, Misty Beene. This year, Bobby Madewell died there, no doubt also under the tender mercies and neglectful care of Gregg County’s medical staff and notorious Dr. Lewis Browne. Now, a new person has died, but they managed to get her off site so technically she wasn’t a jail death. Still the same because we suspect if she’d gotten decent care, if she’d been on the outside, she might have lived. Our sympathies to Ms. Duffie’s family. Please tell them to email or call Texas Jail Project.
Attention: Nacogdoches County
When jailers and sheriffs disapprove of an inmate, does that give them the right to deny that person fair treatment? Humane conditions? A trained jailer should surely know that the answer is “no,” and that verbal abuse and judgmental attitudes can be disastrous for inmates with serious problems. Like Cathryn Windham, 7 months pregnant and currently incarcerated in your county jail. Pre-trial, convicted of nothing but accused of many things. All of which may not even be true. This college graduate has a long-documented history of mental illness and yes, she has used drugs. And so it would appear that you have found her guilty of being an imperfect mother-to-be. I suggest the jail, sheriff, and this county are failing her by not recognizing mental disorders in a pregnant woman are a complicated business, and not necessarily deserving of hostility and punishment.