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Jail Commission Will Meet Thursday May 2

Jan 25th, 2019 | By | Category: Featured Articles

Every 3 months, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) holds a meeting in Austin, and you can make comments during public input. You need to be brief: 3 minutes is maximum time allowed. They listen and don’t respond, but if you stay till the end of the meeting, you may be able to speak to the staff or commissioners informally.

Meeting info is posted here, but it’s only updated the week before the meeting.

The Jail Commission is not all powerful, but it does have the authority to inspect the jails and call sheriffs out when their jail is found to violate the “minimum standards.” Sheriffs, jail administrators and county commissioners come from all over the state to stand and speak to the commissioners, usually to discuss why their jail has been found out of compliance—failed an inspection, in other words. Executive director Brandon Wood and staff of TCJS discuss what violations were found and also approve construction plans, describe their staff’s activities, and propose changes in the minimum standards.

Some of it is complicated, but then, a jail is a complicated institution. Think of running a facility that operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with a constantly changing population—some of whom are violent and others on the verge of suicide. Keeping enough officers is another challenge because turnover is a constant in a world where the pay is low and frustrations high.

Big city jails are complex systems holding thousands of inmates and employing hundreds of staff members. The more than 200 smaller rural jails have limited staff, space and budgets but still must cope with a diverse population with many needs. TCJS walks the fine line of overseeing these jails and holding them to the standards, while allowing for the differences in counties, sheriffs, and buildings that range in age from brand new to more than 100 years year old.

HISTORY

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards states that it is a state regulatory agency responsible for enforcing jail conditions at local jails in the state. It sets rules establishing minimum standards for the construction and operation of jails, and its inspectors check them once a year for compliance. Presently, in 2016, there are only four inspectors for the entire state.

Created in 1975 by the Texas Legislature, the commission consists of of a nine-member panel appointed by the governor to staggered, six-year terms that expire in January of odd-numbered years. The small staff is headed up by executive director Brandon Wood.

WILL THE JAIL COMMISSION HELP ME GET MEDS FOR MY SISTER?

Your sister Leah is in the Bowie County Jail and she’s not getting the correct medicine for her ulcer. She is in pain and has only been given an antacid, but soon the symptoms return and she is deteriorating.

You fill out the online complaint form on the TCJS website.  You wait for a response, and finally you call them. But TCJS explains that there is a catch–the “standards” do not govern medical care. Each jail is responsible for choosing its doctor or medical provider, and that person decides what treatment to give.

However, the inspector will probably voice your concern to the jail administrator, and  just having the Jail Commission call them up and tell them about the complaint sometimes causes the jail administrator to check on an inmate’s medical condition. That combination of an outside agency questioning them sometimes results in an inmate like Leah getting better care—and more than an over-the-counter antacid.

TCJS quarterly meetings in Austin

If you have a concern about lack of care or a lack of official response, please submit a complaint and email us at info@texasjailproject.org to let us know.

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