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Texas Commission on Jail Standards

Aug 12th, 2020 | Category: Jail Commission

Under director Brandon Wood, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards took a close look at its mission and role in the fall of 2020 and issued a report or self-evaluation. TCJS only does that every nine years, when the agency is reviewed by the Texas Sunset Commission, which studies its worth as an agency and analyzes its successes and failures. The 2019 Self-Evaluation Report is nearly 100 pages long, and it’s full of information on a multitude of details and data about the operation of jails. Those who work on issues around incarceration and who understand how secretive jail administrations are and how little emphasis there is on humane treatment and healthy conditions will be most interested in pages 83-87.

On those pages, the Jail Commission analyzes the five issues its staff believes are the most damaging to its mission. Texas Jail Project is grimly satisfied to see that what they list as major issues corresponds with our list of persistent problems leading to unjust treatment of those confined and their families.

Now, as a result of that report, HB 1545 is moving through the Texas House of Representatives. It addresses some of the issues and makes some important changes that have to do with Issue #1 and other TCJS regulations.

ISSUE 1: Facilities Unable to Maintain Compliance

ISSUE 2: Death in Custody Investigations

ISSUE 3: Inmates with Mental Health Issues or Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities

ISSUE 4: Access to Medical Records

ISSUE 5: Veterans in the Criminal Justice System and County Jails

From the August 4th online meeting of TCJS:

Our communications director made the following statement at their quarterly meeting. The subject was our concern about Taylor County Jail’s refusal to communicate with families of people incarcerated there.

“Good morning, I’m Diana Claitor from Texas Jail Project. I want to draw attention to an issue at some jails and hope that Dr. Porsa in particular will note this concern. Some jails create a big obstacle for families trying to ensure medical care for loved ones who are incarcerated, most of whom are pretrial. That obstacle is jails’ refusal to allow an inmate to sign a medical release form which allows his or her parent or spouse to communicate with the jail’s medical provider about medical conditions and medical history of that inmate.

“Recently, three families have reported to us about experiences at the Taylor County Jail. One Abilene mother asked the nurse in charge to provide a medical release form to her son, who has an extensive history of both physical and mental conditions. If he signed , his mother could ask questions and provide information to medical staff, just as she does with the LMHA in Abilene. The nurse told her no, a medical release form has to come from a lawyer.

“That is a lie, plain and simple. Medical release forms are in use in Texas jails, prisons, mental health clinics and facilities like UTMB, without a lawyer being involved. For 12 years, Tx Jail Project has offered a downloadable medical release form on our website texasjailproject.org that families use when the jail fails to provide one and they have worked. But in this case, the lie was firmly stated, convincing a worried mother that there was nothing she could do, even though she had serious concerns about her son’s confusion and his multiple conditions.

“Another parent, an RN living out of state was told by that medical staff they won’t acknowledge a medical release because they wouldn’t know who they were talking to on the phone! Nobody at an agency or facility anywhere else in Texas has said this was a reason not to recognize a medical releases or speak to families. We know of incarcerated people with asthma or heart disease and we also know of people with severe mental illness who may not be able to communicate their medical needs during this pandemic. If a person’s family can’t check on them in these circumstances, that incarcerated man or woman may suffer permanent injury or death.

“This is a real risk. Another relative reported, for example, that they couldn’t get information on the care of their partner who has brain cancer and the Taylor County jail nurse’s response was “we do not have the medical release forms and we don’t know what they are.”

In the past, we have discussed the problems created by jails refusing to acknowledge medical releases with TCJS, and I was told it was the jail’s prerogative. But we believe that since TCJS does provide guidance on best practices in various areas, that they should in this area, especially now with COVID-19 throughout our jails, that use of medical releases should be encouraged, to ensure the free flow of health information. We hope that TCJS will consider this issue, and when it comes to Taylor County jail, ask their medical staff about the various, arbitrary reasons they deny releases.”

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