Skip to Content

Texas Monthly : “It Smells of Despair”: What’s Going On Inside the Harris County Jail?

March 29, 2023

After 28 men and women died in custody while awaiting trial last year, local officials are throwing money at the overcrowded facility. Advocates for inmates say bigger reforms are needed.

Topics:   2023news, Custody Death, Jail Conditions, Overcrowding

In September, Gundu’s colleagues met Justin Smith, a 33-year-old who worked in food services and who spent two and a half months inside HCJ after being charged with aggravated robbery. (He says he’s innocent; his case has yet to go to trial.) Smith believes he caught the coronavirus after being placed in a cell in the jail’s processing center. He says he was displaying symptoms when he was moved into the jail’s general population, where he shared a dorm with 51 other men. Sweating, shaking, coughing, and having lost his sense of smell, Smith asked for medical care, but told Gundu he was denied it. “You can be dying,” he said, “and you get no help.”

The overcrowding has persisted through the winter. In February, the FBI announced it would investigate deaths at the jail. Meanwhile, Gundu continues to hear stories about the lack of medical care offered to inmates in need, such as Smith. “It’s worse than Rikers,” Gundu told me, referring to the notorious New York City jail. “It’s like a little city in there. It smells of despair.”

Research overwhelmingly demonstrates the success of that reform in reducing the number of arrestees jailed while awaiting trial. But statewide Republican politicians, including Governor Greg Abbott and Senator Ted Cruz, and even some local Democrats, including Harris County district attorney Kim Ogg, have blamed what they say is an increase in violent crime on the release of more arrestees without requiring that they post cash bail. Independent monitors have found no evidence to support the claim that ending cash bail correlates with the surge in crime.

Read full article at Texas Monthly
Translate »
Back to top