How to Make a Complaint about a County Jail
The Texas Commission on Jail Standards is the sole state regulatory agency responsible for promulgating and inspecting the 240 local jails in Texas. It sets rules establishing minimum standards for the construction and operation of jails, and its inspectors check for compliance.
People incarcerated in county jails have the right to file a complaint with TCJS to report violations to minimum standards, which can be found in the Texas Administrative Code.
Step 1: File your complaint with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the state agency that regulates and inspects county jails. Email your complaint or information to email@example.com and cc: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow up by calling them at 512-463-5505, but always send the online complaint first.
Step 2: Tell your loved one in jail to file a grievance at the jail.
They should do this, even if they or their family members also send in a complaint to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. (Make copies or keep a record of the dates of grievances.)
Step 3: Those in jail should make copies of anything sent to the Sheriff or Jail Commission. That is the paper trail. If they cannot copy it, make notes: keep a list of all the complaints or grievances with dates. Make notes about who was asked for help filing a grievance and what they said.
Why? There is a law that says if you ever have the need to sue a jail, you should have tried to file a grievance while you were inside that jail. However, there are exceptions. Our best advice to families: tell your loved one to file a grievance and keep a record of when he or she did that.
Step 4: Appeal your complaint if necessary. Once you receive a response to your complaint from TCJS, you will have ten days to appeal the response. Please reach out to us if you need any support with drafting the appeal.
Other Steps and Considerations
- Email us a copy of your complaint at email@example.com
- Ask people in your town to call the sheriff. It helps to have a pastor or member of the religious or business community speak to the sheriff or jail administrator. Make sure they know the details so they can describe the situation.
- Write a letter of complaint to the sheriff: Keep it focused on the problems you or your loved one is experiencing in the jail, like unhealthy conditions or bad treatment. If you want to make sure it gets to the sheriff, hand deliver the letter to their office.
- Some say that grievances do nothing, and in fact, jailers have been known to throw them away. But grievances are a part of the legal record and they can help. If the jail staff doesn’t take it seriously or says they don’t have a form, write a letter to the jail administrator/shift commander or to the sheriff. Ask that officer for grievance forms; remind them that grievance forms are required by law. If you or your loved one has been explicitly denied access to a grievance form, contact us immediately.
- Many lawyers who are representing the person accused or advising on the charges will NOT help you with problems of mistreatment in the jail. Some will not even go to the jail and speak in person with the defendant, and so if possible, before you hire an attorney, ask if they will visit your loved one in jail.
- If someone has been threatened with retaliation, please describe that in your complaint. It’s rare to hear of retribution for complaints to the Jail Commission, probably because once a complaint is reported, the jail knows that eyes are watching. Almost everyone agrees that people in jail should report abuse or neglect or unsafe conditions. (If you believe that giving your loved one’s name could be risky for her or him, please email us and we’ll discuss that with you.)