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Jail Commission Reports on Complaints from 2009

June 2, 2010

By Melinda Hieber, Complaints Investigator, in the newsletter of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. (Be aware that the article is aimed at jail administrators and sheriffs, not the general…

Topics:   complaints, Texas Commission on Jail Standards, Texas Rangers

By Melinda Hieber, Complaints Investigator, in the newsletter of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. (Be aware that the article is aimed at jail administrators and sheriffs, not the general public.)

Fiscal year 2010 is coming to a close. However, I wanted to share with you our final numbers from FY 2009. I hope that this will shed some light on the numbers and types of complaints that we deal with on a daily basis. Not only do sheriffs and administrators have to address complaints at the local level, sometimes, they are required to satisfy complaints on the state level as well.

The complaint department had a very busy year in 2009 receiving 1381 total complaints (approximately 115 each month) by mail, fax, email, or through the complaint form located on the TCJS website. Of those 115 complaints received per month, an average of 48 complaints each month were investigated by TCJS. The remaining 67 complaints received each month were returned to the writer for a variety of reasons to include but not limited to: not using the grievance system through the jail, the issue alleged does not fall under the purview of TCJS (city jails or TDCJ-ID), or the complainant has initiated pending litigation regarding the allegation. TCJS does not conduct criminal investigations, therefore if an inmate alleges an issue that could be considered criminal; the writer is referred to contact the Sheriff, District Attorney, FBI, and/or the Texas Rangers to conduct an investigation into those matters. A copy of the letter is sent to the sheriff along with these agencies advising of the allegations.

The majority of complaints received in our office are regarding medical care. On average, 35-40% of the complaints received are in some way related to medical care. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards does not question the professional opinion of medical personnel, but we do want to make certain an inmate is having all their medical needs addressed. When a county responds to an investigated medical complaint, it is helpful to include dates and details of when medical requests are submitted by the inmate, dates of doctor appointments, and if any refusals to go to appointments have been made by the inmate. The more thorough and diligent you are in your responses will not only help eliminate any concerns the inmates and/or family members have but it could also prevent a special inspection by commission staff….. Also, be mindful that any and all responses you or your staff forward to our office is subject to the Open Records Act. So, do not include any comments or statements that may embarrass you later down the road.

Once a response is received from the county jail regarding an investigated complaint, a letter summarizing the results of the investigation is sent to the complainant. Occasionally, the complainant is not pleased with the results and sends additional correspondence to TCJS. If there is justifiable cause to re-open an investigation, the county is again contacted to provide more information. If one of our Inspectors is in the area, they may stop by the county jail and ask to see documentation supporting the initial response or even speak directly to the inmate.

While the nature of most complaints is quite serious and handled as such, TCJS has received some “entertaining” letters as well. The latest favorite around the office is from a TDCJ-ID inmate that was upset because he was not selected to sing in the prison choir. Maybe he was the next American Idol….

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