Reports and News
- “Harris County Sheriff’s Office Management Failures: Inadequate Medical Care at the Harris County Jail” Alycia Welch investigates the failures of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) in relation to hundreds of jail deaths that occurred to predominantly pre-trial inmates. This agency analysis focuses on the failures of the HCSO to provide adequate medical care to inmates and suggests potential reforms for ensuring access by the inmates to adequate care.
- “Callous and Cruel: Use of Force Against Inmates with Mental Disabilities in US Jails and Prisons” is a Human Rights Watch report that reveals the reality of attitudes in jails toward mentally ill prisoners. This study confirms what families and former inmates of Texas county jails have been describing to us for years. The spectrum ranges from ridiculing, taunting and encouraging people to commit suicide—to actual beatings, tasings and use of restraint chairs for days on end. Part of the reason is that jailers are not required to be trained in what mental illness is and how people with these disorders should be treated. But as HRW points out, It’s not a few rogue officers at the bottom. The attitude often goes all the way up the chain of command.
- “DON’T I NEED A LAWYER?” This is the question everyone wants answered when they go before a judge for the first time. And the answer is YES, of course, but that doesn’t mean you will get one. The Constitution Project has issued an important report on the unfair and unethical practice of denying poor people representation at their first hearing. The result is often lengthy pretrial detention and harsher sentencing upon conviction. Read “Pretrial Justice and the Right to Counsel at First Judical Bail Hearing” just issued in March, 2015.
- From Houston, the Orange Jumpsuit Project reveals important data and information about Harris County inmates who can’t afford bond. They wait longer and face tougher sentences simply because they can’t bail out, and because they look like criminals when they go before a judge, wearing the orange jumpsuit and battered apparearance one gets from being in jail. Nationwide, our research shows that of the thousands of people languishing in pretrial detention, 21% of them are in the jail for lack of $1000 bail or less!
- Crimes, Massive Waste: The Terrible Toll of America’s Broken Misdemeanor Courts
A thorough report about the explosion of misdemeanor cases that is wrecking lives and wasting money. “Every year literally millions of accused misdemeanants, overwhelmingly those unable to hire private counsel,and disproportionately people of color, are denied their constitutional right to equal justice. And, taxpayers are footing the bill for these gross inefficiencies.
- National Association of Counties (NACO) has good information about alternatives to jail on their Jail Diversion website page, along with a list of Bexar County programs.
- “People linger in jail for years and years because of their poverty,” says Richard Aborn in an excellent article in January 29, 2013 issue of Quarterly Americas. He goes on to explore the situation for poor defendants who cannot afford bail or a lawyer who will adequately represent them, even in cases where they are eventually acquitted. “Q and A: Richard Aborn on Reducing Pretrial Detention Rates” is mostly a video interview well worth watching to hear about rather simple solutions to the great injustice of overlong pretrial detention.
- Prisoners of the Census:
Did you know that the way the Census Bureau counts people in prison creates significant problems for democracy and for our nation’s future? It leads to a dramatic distortion of representation at local and state levels, and creates an inaccurate picture of community populations for research and planning purposes.
- Solitary Confinement and Mental Illness in U.S. Prisons: A Challenge for Medical Ethics–this academic paper describes the detrimental effects of seclusion or solitary confinement on mentally ill inmates. This well-written article from the Journal of American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online calls for advocates and professionals to “to adopt formal positions against the prolonged isolation of prisoners with serious mental illness.”
- “Privatized Prisons: A Human Marketplace” January 2013 – Read the definitive piece on the way privatization distorts and corrupts the entire society. And also see what it does to inmates. As the British learned hundreds of years ago, “it gives to a harsh gaoler a power of oppression.”
- “Expanding Private Prison Industry Benefits from Weak Oversight Structure“ – The proportion of prisoners in private prisons has exploded, according to a Justice Policy Institute’s analysis of federal statistics. The number of people in privately-run prisons has increased by 353.7 percent since 1996. And there has been no federally-mandated minimal level of oversight for facilities run by private prisons. Read this to find out how that impacts the prisoners and the entire criminal justice system.
- “Families Unlocking Futures: Solutions to the Crisis In Juvenile Justice” This report published in September of 2012 is based on more than 1000 interviews and focus groups, including dozens of families in Harris County. Texas Families of Incarcerated Youth contributed to the project.
- “Court Rules Jail Pretrial Detainees With Mental Illness Cannot Be Held Indefinitely” Disability Rights Texas attorneys won a significant victory earlier this year, on behalf of pretrial detainees with mental illness who, after being found incompetent to stand trial, remain detained in county jails for months while awaiting transfer to a mental health facility for competency restoration treatment. But the ruling is out on appeal, so county jail inmates are still languishing in jails until the appeal is decided.
- “Texas Confronts Human Trafficking With Its Own Policies” An article from the publication Governing looks at how Texas, site of 25% of all trafficking in the U.S., is dealing with this growing crisis.
- “Ten Truths That Matter When Working With Justice Involved Women“ In this report from the new Center for Justice Involved Women, researchers discover the unique pathways and risk factors that signal different intervention needs for women.
- “The Effects of Prison/Jail Visitation on Recidivism” How important is visitation for people inside jails and prisons? Here we see that while many working in criminal justice don’t realize its power and influence, visitation of family and clergy has very real outcomes for inmates.
- “The Rehabilitation Dilemma in Texas County Jails” This important article by Mark Kellar from the University of Houston speaks to what we find in most jails, which is “no treatment, no programs and no classes.”
- A remarkable speech on how the US has criminalized poverty by the veteran advocate for jail/prison reform, Bonnie Kerness, from the American Friends Service Committee.
- New Report on Women Offenders
- CNN Report: Too Many Juveniles Are Being Locked Up
- “Criminalizing” Poverty – How America is incarcerating the poor (10/13/2009).
- ACLU’s Prison & Jail Accountability Project 2006-2007 Guide [pdf]
- Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons
- Federal Report on Dallas County Jail– Report from the office of the Assistant Attorney General of the United States, Wan J. Kim, on the conditions in the Dallas County Jail. This is a must read!
- National Council on Crime and Delinquency: Attitudes of US Voters toward Nonserious Offenders and Alternatives to Incarceration [pdf] (June 2009)
- Texas Commission on Jail Standards 2004 Report [pdf] – As far as we know, there is no more recent report on all these topics. The Jail Commission does do monthly reports on populations of our jails, and you can view those by clicking here.
What is the difference between a state jail and a county jail in Texas?
A state jail facility is run by, or under contract to, the Texas Dept of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). A state jail facility is really not a jail. It is actually a minimum security prison facility, although it is not officially called that.
A county jail is completely different in that it is run by the county, under the power of the local sheriff. It is important to understand that county jails are not part of the Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice.
This is a simple report by a former correctional officer named Bill G on a blog called INYO County Sheriff Talks, December 20, 2010:
There is no one in a state jail facility who is awaiting trial, like in a county jail. Everyone in TDCJ custody is convicted, and serving a sentence.
A state jail felony is a non-violent fourth degree felony, with a sentence of 180 days to two years.
The TDCJ unit directory page lists all correctional facilities operated by, or under contract to, the state.
I worked at a private state jail facility, as well as two different state prisons, during my 4 1/2 years as a correctional officer.
Edit: Although state jail facilities are for,”non-violent fourth degree felons”, they are NOT necessarily less violent than any other prison in the state of Texas. I had plenty of use of force incidents at the state jail facility I was at, as well as the prisons I worked at…..