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Jail Commission meeting ONLINE—Thursday, November 5th, 2020

Because of the Coronavirus pandemic, the next Commission Meeting is online only, on the first Thursday in November, beginning at 9 am. The public can attend and speak through a two-way telephone conference by calling toll US/Canada Toll Free 1-844-531-0749. Access code 711355173#. Attendee ID: 11# 

Or you can access by INTERNET VIDEO CONFERENCE. Details will be their meetings page here. 

How TCJS meetings work:

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 the time allowed. Be there a few minutes before 9 am to sign up to speak. That’s the only time you can speak your mind so be on time! We encourage you to let us know you are coming and will be happy to answer any questions you may have about speaking there.

The Commissioners, the Chair of the Commission and Executive Director Brandon Wood will listen and do not respond, but if you stay until the end of the meeting, you may speak to the staff or commissioners informally. You can also hand them printed copies of your remarks so they have them to read over later.

Meeting info is posted here, but it’s only updated the week before the meeting.  Much of the time, between legislative sessions, the meetings are held at the John H. Reagan Building 105 West 15th Street, 1st Floor, Room 120. There is some street parking, but it’s hard to find. You can park in the Capitol’s public parking garages–allow 10 min. for walking time.

The Jail Commission has the authority to inspect the jails and when violations are found, isses an “out of compliance” report when thejail violates the “minimum standards.” Sheriffs, jail administrators and county commissioners come to the quarterly meeting from all over the state. They stand and speak to the commissioners, usually to discuss why their jail has failed an inspection. Executive director Brandon Wood and the commissioners discuss what the jail must do to come into compliance; they also also approve construction plans, describe their staff’s activities, and discuss 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, some mentally disabled, some on the verge of suicide and many others very unhappy at being there.. Keeping enough officers is another challenge because turnover is a constant in a world where the pay is low and frustration 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. So why should you bother? Because the inspector then makes a call to find out more about this person’s medical care.

The inspector’s responsibility is to speak to that jail’s administrator and ask questions, and that call from someone at the Jail Commission sends a signal. It also means there is something on the record–a documented complaint and the jail’s response. Bottom line? An outside agency questioning jail staff can—and should—result in an incarcerated person like Leah getting better care and better meds  than an over-the-counter antacid.

If you don’t hear back from the Texas Jail Commission, please email us at info@texasjailproject.org to let us know.

(DURING THE LEGISLATIVE SESSION, MEETING LOCATIONS CAN CHANGE AT THE LAST MINUTE TO ANOTHER BUILDING, SO ALWAYS CHECK THEIR WEBSITE.)