Make a Complaint About a County Jail

You can register your complaint  with the state agency that oversees county jails.  Here is how:

1. Contact the Commission on Jail Standards. Fastest way: fill out their online form.  You can also write them or call them, but they prefer the online complaint first.

  • When you fill out the online form of the Commission on Jail Standards, they ask for your inmate’s name and the name of the jail and then a short summary of the problem.
  • State the facts plainly; don’t exaggerate and don’t insult anyone. If possible, make a copy (copy and paste somewhere else) before you send.
  • Hit the SUBMIT button at the bottom or your form will disappear!

If someone has been threatened with retaliation, please also tell that in your complaint. We have not heard of retribution against inmates for complaining to the Commission probably because once a complaint is reported, the jail knows that eyes are watching. But in a few cases, guards have made comments to inmates. Most everyone agrees that inmates should speak up and report abuse or neglect or unsafe conditions, however. (If you believe that giving your inmate’s name could be risky for her or him, please email me and we’ll talk about that: diana@texasjailproject.org)

2. Inmates should file a grievance at the jail too, even if they or their family members send in a complaint in to the jail commission.

Why? Basically there is a law that says if you ever have the need to sue a jail, you have to have tried to file a grievance while you were inside that jail. However, there are exceptions. Our best advice: tell your inmate to try and file a grievance and keep a record of when he or she did that.

Scott Medlock, formerly with the Texas Civil Rights Project, explains the situation:

“Policies are different in every county jail. Please check your inmate handbook for information about how to file a grievance. If you were not given an inmate handbook, ask jail staff how to file a grievance. If jail staff will not explain how to file a grievance to you, you may not be required to file a grievance before taking your case to court. Make notes about who you asked for help filing a grievance and what they told you.

“All county jails are inspected every year by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. To report a problem to the Commission, you can complete an online form here: www.tcjs.state.tx.us/complaint.php. Contacting the Commission does not exhaust administrative remedies under the PLRA. If you wish to take legal action, you must also make sure to follow the jail’s grievance policies in most cases.”

3. Other places and people to call on:

  • Email us at Texas Jail Project and we will try to help: diana@texasjailproject.org  (Help us to know more about problems by mailing us a copy of your complaint.)
  • Call or write your representative in the Texas legislature. Here is a link where you can put in your address and get contact info for your representative: http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/
  • Ask people in your town to call the sheriff. It helps to have a pastor or member of business community speak to the sheriff or jail administrator. Family members can help by calling, but officers often pay more attention to a religious leader or a person who isn’t related. Make sure they know the details so they can describe the situation.
  • Write a letter of complaint to the sheriff: Be polite, keep it short and focus on the problems you see in the jail, like unhealthy conditions or bad treatment. Do not curse or give a life history. If you don’t think it will get to the sheriff, mail to a relative and have them hand deliver it to the sheriff’s office.
  • Get a lawyer’s advice: If you can afford it, find an *attorney who is knowledgeable about the jail and is interested in helping you and the inmate. Always try to get a lawyer recommended by somebody you trust; don’t just go by the ones with the biggest ads or commercials.

4. Problems inmates have with grievances and lawyers:

  • Some will tell you that grievances do nothing. and in fact, some guards have been known to throw them away. But grievances are a part of the legal record and they can help. If the jail staff doesn’t take it seriously or says they don’t have a form, an inmate can write a letter to the jail administrator/boss or to the sheriff and politeley ask for grievance forms; the inmate can remind them that grievance forms are required by law.
  • Try to make a copies. Inmates need to write a copy of everything they send to the sheriff or Jail Commission officials—that is your paper trail–and when people say they never saw a complaint, you can always show your copy. If you cannot copy it, it’s still good to make notes: keep a list of all the complaints or grievances with dates
  • Lawyers hired for the court case: Many lawyers who are representing the person accused or advising on the charges will NOT help you with problems of mistreatment in the jail. Some will not even go to the jail and speak in person to the inmate, and so if possible, before you hire an attorney, ask if they will visit the inmate at the jail.