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Bexar County Jail Falls Flat Again

Jan 10th, 2010 | Category: Bexar County, Conditions in County Jails

By Josh Baugh – Express-News
The Bexar County Jail failed its annual inspection for the sixth time in eight years — for reasons ranging from overcrowding to low water pressure and broken intercoms.

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the state agency charged with overseeing detention centers, noted seven “areas of non-compliance” in its report, which was released Friday after a three-day inspection.

The jail was also docked for not annually testing all officers and inmates for tuberculosis, multiple maintenance-related issues and failure to document hourly visual checks of inmates by certain jailers.

Chief Deputy Sheriff Rolando Tafolla said that while the Sheriff’s Office is ultimately responsible for all issues that arise within the jail, he maintained that the areas of non-compliance were largely outside of its control.

“They are things that can be corrected. Unfortunately, we did not pass,” said Tafolla, who served as interim sheriff for about 18 months after former Sheriff Ralph Lopez was forced to resign. “We have a big jail, and there are a lot of problems.”

Bexar County Facilities Division Manager Betty Bueché said that with the inspection looming, her department received more than 1,300 work orders for problems ranging from low water pressure to clogged toilets. State inspectors identified another 139 problems, bringing the total to almost 1,500.

Bueché said that in a typical week, the jail generates about 400 work orders for maintenance problems.

“None of the maintenance items were anything that we don’t handle on a regular basis. We don’t see any problems associated with accomplishing any of those tasks,” she said. “There simply wasn’t enough time that our crews could finish the work.”

Included in the nearly 1,500 work orders were about 200 cases of broken light fixtures, which require workers to remove the fixtures, re-weld parts and cut new high-security Plexiglas lenses. The overcrowding problems involved excessive capacity in trusty dorms and some holding cells, not in the general jail population.

While the jail perennially fails its inspections, in the spectrum of non-compliance it’s about average with other county jails, said Jail Standards Commission Executive Director Adan Muñoz.

“They’re somewhere in between, I’d reckon,” he said.

Perry Hyden, president of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Bexar County, said the county needs to address serious issues within the jail, but he wasn’t ready to blame the new sheriff, Amadeo Ortiz.

“I’m not surprised at all that it failed,” he said. “I don’t think we can assess total fault on this new administration because they just took over on Jan. 1.”

Hyden called for a new jail facility altogether and said the current building should be scrapped. The county, he said, merely puts band-aids on problems rather than fully addressing them.

“We’ve been telling the commissioners and the administration that they need to build a new facility,” he said. “Infrastructure is old, repairs need to be made, but money simply is not allocated for those repairs.”

Bueché said that’s just not true. The county, she said, has two programs for the jail — routine maintenance to fix minor problems and capital improvements for major upgrades that include new heating and air systems and roofs. There’s absolutely no need to tear down the jail, she said.

The county is now tasked with addressing the non-compliance issues.

“For the new administration, it’s important to realize what they inherited,” Muñoz. “But it does need to be corrected.”

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