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Brownsville Challenge

Feb 3rd, 2008 | Category: Success Stories

Brownsville, February 3, 2008, from Educator/Jail Chaplain Gail Hanson:
Dear Texas Jail Project:

I am amazed, pleased and proud of the way the newspaper & citizens of Brownsville have taken to heart last week’s Texas Jail Project editorial. See below for today’s excellent *editorial calling for change in all U.S. jails…Also, I’ve received several emails from activists from Pax Christi and Texas Inmate Family’s Association and others who say they will take up the cause of women in the Cameron County jail. Thanks to all of you for your support too. Please pass this editorial on to friends around the state.

Thank you so much, Diana & Texas Jail Project!
Gail Hanson

*”Just Treatment” from the Brownsville Herald editorial board:

It’s long been held that societies are ultimately judged not by the monuments they build for their leaders, but by how they treat the least of their members. Those who are placed behind bars certainly are among this group.

Many people hold little compassion for jail and prison inmates. Errors in prosecution and identification notwithstanding, it can be assumed that they’re in there for a reason.

Even as it remains one of the last developed nations that execute people, the United States and its local counterparts generally boast that they take better care of their prisoners than most other places in the world.

Indeed, the nation’s penal system has come a long way since the late U.S. Judge Sarah T. Hughes mandated widespread reforms in the 1960s and 1970s. Hughes rightly insisted that officials recognize that regardless of the crimes they might have committed, inmates continued to be human and retained the right to be treated as humans even while incarcerated.

It’s saddening, to say the least, to see that conditions in the Cameron County detention system have been deemed far below the minimum standards set for such facilities. Diana Claitor, co-founder of the Texas Jail Project advocacy group, whose letter was published on these pages last week, called conditions in the county “some of the worst (in Texas),” particularly with regard to women.

Jail officials concede that female inmates receive less recreation and less time outdoors than their male counterparts. The officials say overcrowding forced them to move the women from their designated area to the old jail that was to be abandoned when the Carrizalez-Rucker facility opened in 2002 — even as a tent annex built last year to relieve overcrowding remains unused.

Jails must be more than just a place to warehouse those whom we want removed from society, if only temporarily. Humane treatment can go a long way toward helping rehabilitate those who do wrong.

Tales abound of people who were considered incorrigible when they entered jail or prison, but acquired valuable education or skills, or were influenced by kindness behind bars and turned their lives around. Researchers have found that many inmates have histories of neglect or abuse, and they have been successfully rehabilitated with the right combination of respect, discipline and responsibility.

Those influences don’t come when people sit alone in dark cages all day long, and don’t even see daylight for more than a few minutes per week.

Mandates and recommendations by Hughes and others have been codified; the Texas Commission on Jail Standards details those standards to local governments, and periodically checks on the conditions at the facilities across the state. All four of Cameron County’s detention centers routinely fail those inspections, and did so again this past week.

There is no reason for such chronic problems in our county jail system. There certainly is no shortage of officials and private advocates, such as Claitor and local advocates and religious officials, who can offer their assistance to inmates and jail officers.

The primary responsibility for conditions at county detention facilities rests with our sheriff. Commissioners Court, however, should recognize its responsibility to oversee county operations, including those at the jail.

After all, the people sitting in those jail cells might be criminals to many, but every one of them is someone’s son or daughter, uncle our aunt, mother or father. Ultimately, our treatment of these individuals reflects strongly on our county as a whole.

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