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Nueces Jail Fails Due to Bad Conditions

January 17, 2010 The Nueces County Jail failed a surprise state inspection two weeks after U.S. marshals pulled federal prisoners from the jail, the U.S. Marshals Service said Friday. State inspectors gave…

Topics:   conditions in county jails, inspections, sanitation, Texas Commission on Jail Standards

The Nueces County Jail failed a surprise state inspection two weeks after U.S. marshals pulled federal prisoners from the jail, the U.S. Marshals Service said Friday.

State inspectors gave Sheriff Rebecca Stutts a timeframe to fix problems and said they understood why federal prisoners were removed, according to marshals.

State inspectors finished the two-day surprise inspection Friday. Stutts said she would not comment on the results until an official report is released.

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards does not release results to the public until county officials receive the report, commission executive director Terry Julian said. He expects to receive the inspectors’ report by Wednesday and to send official results to county officials by Thursday.

Inspectors gave a verbal report to Stutts after their inspection.

“There were general observations, but we don’t comment because it’s not official until it’s in writing,” Stutts said Friday.

County Commissioner Chuck Cazalas said the state has not decided whether the jail failed.

“We’ll have to wait and see what the determination is,” he said.

Photos taken June 7 by marshals show moldy showers, peeling paint, clogged toilets, exposed wiring and inmates sleeping on floors. The state inspection this week found similar conditions and an emergency generator that would not work despite requirements to test it monthly, marshals said.

The state conducted the surprise annual inspection about two weeks after the U.S. Marshals’ Service pulled 55 federal prisoners from the Nueces County Jail because federal inspections found questionable living conditions. Julian has said the jail was due for an annual inspection because the last one was conducted Aug. 11, 2005.

The state commission can take away certificates for jails to operate if deficiencies are not fixed after an inspection. State law requires jail officials to correct problems in a reasonable amount of time, which must be one year or less as set by the commission.

If standards aren’t met then, the state can close a jail, remove inmates from a portion of the jail and order prisoners transferred. As of May, 18 jails were closed in Texas, 26 were non-compliant with standards and 225 met standards, according to state commission records.

State inspectors follow a checklist of about 600 items, ranging from inmate clothing to booking procedures and meals.

“They’ll check every cell, every lavatory, every commode,” Julian said. “It will be a completely thorough check of the jail.”

Julian also said the U.S. marshals’ pulling federal prisoners out of the jail did not affect the normal state inspection process.

“We use the same criteria in all the inspections,” Julian said. “We did send one extra inspector so it wouldn’t take so long because the news media wants to know.”

Stutts has said the jail was cleaned after marshals pulled prisoners and that larger maintenance problems, such as plumbing, would take longer to fix. She has asked for a meeting with county commissioners to develop a budget and plan.

Jails are responsible for a maintenance and cleaning plan and for keeping the jail up to standards, and Julian said “clean” can be a subjective term.

“What’s clean for one might not be clean for another,” he said. “But they need to have a system set up locally and they develop the standard for what clean is.”

Some jails use incentives for inmates to keep their cells clean, such as popcorn on Fridays for the cleanest cell, Julian said.

“The labor is there – it’s all free,” he said of jail maintenance in Texas. “There’s no reason for them not to keep the jail clean.”

The Nueces County Jail sanitation plan filed with the state in 2000 calls for daily cleaning of jail units. Each unit must contain a cleaning bucket stocked with disinfectant, a sponge, a toilet bowl brush and a scrub brush.

Inmates should clean daily, and corrections officers are responsible for supervising and inspecting the cleanup, according to the plan. A mop and bucket with clean water also should be provided once a day to each unit and stored in ventilated areas when not in use.

Trustees should be assigned to clean holding areas, briefing rooms, the court tunnel, booking area and restrooms.

Stutts said the plan is followed daily at the Nueces County Jail.

“As far as I know it has been,” she said.

State inspection reports since 2000 show two deficiencies in the Nueces County Jail that were later cleared, and the jail passed all inspections. In April 2001, state officials found the holding and detoxification cells crowded with 124 inmates, 54 above capacity. A follow-up inspection in July cleared the jail.

In 2004, a July inspection found deficiencies in life safety equipment or drills, but the jail was re-inspected and certified the next month.

The contract between Nueces County and the federal government sets aside 96 of 1,020 beds in the county jail for federal prisoners. The county receives a daily rate of $45 for each prisoner.

Contact Denise Malan at 886-4334


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