Advocacy resources and information for people in county jails and their loved ones.
Is your loved one:
Check their medical condition
First, obtain medical release authorization.Get Help
Report a crime in jail
The Texas Rangers and the FBI have the authority to investigate criminal acts inside county jails.Get Help
Request records or other documents
Do you need to get records or information from the sheriff or from a city or county office? You have a right to see those records because of the Texas Information Act–the laws about open records or “freedom of information”.Get Help
File a complaint about their treatment
The Texas Commission on Jail Standards is responsible for regulation and inspection of county jails.Get Help
Haven’t found the answer to your question? Contact us.
Visiting loved ones in a county jail
Because county jails are not centrally regulated like prisons, visitation policies vary widely and reflect the culture of the local sheriff. Explore our directory of county jails in Texas for contact and visitation information.
Have you been denied visitation or want to share your experience of visitation in a county jail? Contact us.View the directory
Jails (e.g. county jails, local jails, municipal jails, lock-ups) are operated by a county or city government.
Most everyone who is arrested is taken to the local county (or city) jail which is run by your county and its sheriff. People who can not afford cash bail, or are otherwise restricted from pretrial release, must stay there until their case is completed. And so most of the people in the local jails are not yet convicted—legally innocent.
The Texas county jail typically holds
- people who have been arrested and are being held pending a plea agreement, trial, or sentencing;
- people who have been convicted of a misdemeanor criminal offense and are serving a sentence of (typically) less than 1 year; and
- people who have been sentenced to prison and are about to be transferred to another facility.
Many new detainees arrive in county jails daily. More than 1 million people are booked into Texas county jails each year! Some may stay less than one day or only for a few days until they are okayed for release in a court proceeding. Some are released after putting up bail or being released to a pretrial services caseload, or after being placed on probation, or are released on their own recognizance having agreed to appear in court.
Prisons are operated by a state government or the federal government. “Penitentiary” is a synonym for prison.
The number of sentenced inmates entering prisons each day is far less than the number of people delivered at the door of U.S. jails. People who are going to prison know it in advance. They may be transferred from jail, taken to prison from court after a conviction, or report to prison on a date set by the court.
*In Texas, the prison system designated certain facilities as “state jails,” just to confuse matters, but these are still prisons where people have been sentenced to a certain length of time and are not related to county jails.
Community members can request holistic support from Texas Jail Project to:
- Intervene in acute medical and mental health crises
- Assist your family in obtaining medical records release
- Refer and amplify your case to relevant agencies (e.g. Veterans Services, Disability Rights Texas, Health and Human Services)
- Report medical neglect to state agencies
- Advise and advocate for pregnant people’s release and care
- Advise and advocate for release and care of people with disabilities and mental illness
- Contact your court-appointed attorney
- Assist with complaints to Texas State Bar and Indigent Defense Commission if you are not receiving robust representation and contact from your attorney
Storytelling is an impactful and transformative part of Texas Jail Project’s work. If you’re interested in collaborating with us on storytelling advocacy, we can provide resources & training, and connect you with journalists, policy, and lawmakers.
Community support is an essential part of healing from the trauma of incarceration. Texas Jail Project has a statewide network of peer-to-peer volunteers who have personal experience navigating the system, and who are ready to support you. Additionally, we may be able to connect you with wellness providers and health practitioners specializing in trauma-informed care.
If your loved one’s attorney has not visited them in the first 48 hours or has not communicated with them or is not providing adequate representation, you can take the following steps to file a grievance with the State Bar’s Client Assistance Attorney Program (CAAP).
- The first step in filing a grievance is to complete a grievance form through the CAAP online submission system. The forms are also available in pdf format: English or Spanish.
- Fill out the grievance form completely. Answer every question as best you can.
- Be sure to attach copies (not originals) of any documents that you believe will help explain your grievance.
- Mail your copies of your documents to State Bar of Texas, Chief Disciplinary Counsel’s Office, P.O. Box 13287, Austin, TX 78711 Or fax it to (512) 427-4169.
You can use this guide and template created by Texas Fair Defense Project on how to draft a grievance and the steps needed to replace your current attorney.
The Texas Indigent Commission (TIDC) provides state funding for court appointed attorneys and some public defenders. They investigate system level complaints against attorneys when there are multiple individuals with similar grievances against the same attorney. The complaint process is only available online here. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need help with drafting a complaint.
Texas Jail Project can not post bond, but depending on which county you are in, you may be able to receive bailout support from a community bail fund.
In Denton County, please contact Denton Bail Fund.
In Dallas County, please contact Faith In Texas
In Harris County, please contact The Bail Project and Restoring Justice.