- The Prison Policy Institute’s “State of Phone Justice” analyzes the effect of greedy, exploitive companies like Securus on people in our COUNTY JAILS. “Local jails are very different from state prisons: On a given day, 3 out of 4 people held in jails under local authority have not even been convicted, much less sentenced. The vast majority are being held pretrial, and many will remain behind bars unless they can make bail. Charging pretrial defendants high prices for phone calls punishes people who are legally innocent, drives up costs for their appointed counsel, and makes it harder for them to contact family members and others who might help them post bail or build their defense. It also puts them at risk of losing their jobs, housing, and custody of their children while they are in jail awaiting trial.To learn more about how jails profit from phone calls, check out the Prison Policy Institute’s interactive site, State of Phone Justice. Read this great report, where they use a running clock of how long you’ve been reading to demonstrate the rate of charges for a call from Harris County Jail–that a family will have to pay for. https://www.prisonpolicy.org/phones/state_of_phone_justice.html
- Solitary. A lot of the public, lawmakers and even advocates don’t recognize the damage and trauma that solitary, aka seclusion, inflicts on people confined in Texas county jails. Many of our 240 county jails use solitary as control and punishment on people experiencing mental illnesses and persons who are pregnant. In this excellent new report from Vera, they make this important point: “….Even one week in solitary can lead to significant changes in electrical activity in the brain. This is not a new concept—as far back as 50 years ago, researchers linked social isolation and sensory deprivation to slowed brain activity and poorer performance on intellectual and perceptual-motor tests.” https://www.vera.org/downloads/publications/the-impacts-of-solitary-confinement.pdf
- Alec Karakatsanis calls the unconstitutional and cruel money bail system part of the American PUNISHMENT system—not a criminal justice system. “In the six years before my organization, Civil Rights Corps, filed a constitutional civil rights lawsuit challenging the money bail system in Harris County, Texas, 55 human beings died in the local jail in downtown Houston because they were too poor to buy their release before trial. The American punishment system inflicts unspeakable cruelty every day, both in ways that make it into newspapers and viral videos and in ways that are only whispered about in jail cells late at night.” Read Karakatsanis’ excellent Time magazine piece here.
- A 100 page 2019 self-evaluation report by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards prepared for the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission.
- The Texas Tribune dissects a twisted judicial system that ensures injustice for poor people: “How judicial conflicts of interest are denying poor Texans their right to an effective lawyer”
- A 2018 study of 10 transgender women of color in a Southern county jail revealed “high levels of abuse and harassment, solitary confinement, mental health issues …and harsh correctional conditions, which exacerbated mental health issues.” They also reported discrimination and mistreatment “both by other inmates—particularly while in special housing units—and correctional officers.” The study by Transgender Health also finds that transgender people are disproportionately incarcerated. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5831751/
- Texas Appleseed’s report lays out the high cost of jailing people who shouldn’t be incarcerated. “AN ANALYSIS OF TEXAS JAIL BOOKINGS:How Texas Counties Could Save Millions of Dollars by Safely Diverting People From Jail,” April 2019
- The important report from the UT Civil Rights Clinic, Preventable Tragedies: How to Reduce Mental Health-Related Deaths in Texas Jails profiles several cases Texas Jail Project worked on and contains an interview with Director Diana Claitor. The policy recommendations were helpful to lawmakers in passing legislation during the recent session in early 2017, although many of the strongest measures in the Sandra Bland Act were dropped, disappointing her family and many advocates.
- This amazing map by the VERA Institute shows how many people are held in jails and prisons in every county in the U.S.
- A new 2017 study highlights how many more women in jails and prisons are experiencing mental illness than the men are—although both numbers are appalling when you consider the stressful conditions and poor medical treatment in our incarceration nation. While 20% of women in prison and 32% of those in jail are diagnosed with serious psychological distress, it’s 14% of men in prison and 26% of men in jail. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) examined jails and prison for two years…. Mental Health Problems Reported by Prison and Jail Inmates
- “Harris County Sheriff’s Office Management Failures: Inadequate Medical Care at the Harris County Jail” Alycia Welch investigates the failures of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) in relation to hundreds of jail deaths that occurred to predominantly pre-trial inmates. This agency analysis focuses on the failures of the HCSO to provide adequate medical care to inmates and suggests potential reforms for ensuring access by the inmates to adequate care.
- “Callous and Cruel: Use of Force Against Inmates with Mental Disabilities in US Jails and Prisons” is a Human Rights Watch report that reveals the reality of attitudes in jails toward mentally ill prisoners. This study confirms what families and former inmates of Texas county jails have been describing to us for years. The spectrum ranges from ridiculing, taunting and encouraging people to commit suicide—to actual beatings, tasings and use of restraint chairs for days on end. Part of the reason is that jailers are not required to be trained in what mental illness is and how people with these disorders should be treated. But as HRW points out, It’s not a few rogue officers at the bottom. The attitude often goes all the way up the chain of command.
- “DON’T I NEED A LAWYER?” This is the question everyone wants answered when they go before a judge for the first time. And the answer is YES, of course, but that doesn’t mean you will get one. The Constitution Project has issued an important report on the unfair and unethical practice of denying poor people representation at their first hearing. The result is often lengthy pretrial detention and harsher sentencing upon conviction. Read “Pretrial Justice and the Right to Counsel at First Judical Bail Hearing” just issued in March, 2015.
- From Houston, the Orange Jumpsuit Project reveals important data and information about Harris County inmates who can’t afford bond. They wait longer and face tougher sentences simply because they can’t bail out, and because they look like criminals when they go before a judge, wearing the orange jumpsuit and battered apparearance one gets from being in jail. Nationwide, our research shows that of the thousands of people languishing in pretrial detention, 21% of them are in the jail for lack of $1000 bail or less!
- Crimes, Massive Waste: The Terrible Toll of America’s Broken Misdemeanor Courts
A thorough report about the explosion of misdemeanor cases that is wrecking lives and wasting money. “Every year literally millions of accused misdemeanants, overwhelmingly those unable to hire private counsel,and disproportionately people of color, are denied their constitutional right to equal justice. And, taxpayers are footing the bill for these gross inefficiencies.
- National Association of Counties (NACO) has good information about alternatives to jail on their Jail Diversion website page, along with a list of Bexar County programs.
- “People linger in jail for years and years because of their poverty,” says Richard Aborn in an excellent article in January 29, 2013 issue of Quarterly Americas. He goes on to explore the situation for poor defendants who cannot afford bail or a lawyer who will adequately represent them, even in cases where they are eventually acquitted. “Q and A: Richard Aborn on Reducing Pretrial Detention Rates” is mostly a video interview well worth watching to hear about rather simple solutions to the great injustice of overlong pretrial detention.
- Prisoners of the Census:
Did you know that the way the Census Bureau counts people in prison creates significant problems for democracy and for our nation’s future? It leads to a dramatic distortion of representation at local and state levels, and creates an inaccurate picture of community populations for research and planning purposes.
- Solitary Confinement and Mental Illness in U.S. Prisons: A Challenge for Medical Ethics–this academic paper describes the detrimental effects of seclusion or solitary confinement on mentally ill inmates. This well-written article from the Journal of American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online calls for advocates and professionals to “to adopt formal positions against the prolonged isolation of prisoners with serious mental illness.”
- “Privatized Prisons: A Human Marketplace” January 2013 – Read the definitive piece on the way privatization distorts and corrupts the entire society. And also see what it does to inmates. As the British learned hundreds of years ago, “it gives to a harsh gaoler a power of oppression.”
- “Expanding Private Prison Industry Benefits from Weak Oversight Structure“ – The proportion of prisoners in private prisons has exploded, according to a Justice Policy Institute’s analysis of federal statistics. The number of people in privately-run prisons has increased by 353.7 percent since 1996. And there has been no federally-mandated minimal level of oversight for facilities run by private prisons. Read this to find out how that impacts the prisoners and the entire criminal justice system.
- “Families Unlocking Futures: Solutions to the Crisis In Juvenile Justice” This report published in September of 2012 is based on more than 1000 interviews and focus groups, including dozens of families in Harris County. Texas Families of Incarcerated Youth contributed to the project.
- “Court Rules Jail Pretrial Detainees With Mental Illness Cannot Be Held Indefinitely” Disability Rights Texas attorneys won a significant victory earlier this year, on behalf of pretrial detainees with mental illness who, after being found incompetent to stand trial, remain detained in county jails for months while awaiting transfer to a mental health facility for competency restoration treatment. But the ruling is out on appeal, so county jail inmates are still languishing in jails until the appeal is decided.
- “Texas Confronts Human Trafficking With Its Own Policies” An article from the publication Governing looks at how Texas, site of 25% of all trafficking in the U.S., is dealing with this growing crisis.
- “Ten Truths That Matter When Working With Justice Involved Women“ In this report from the new Center for Justice Involved Women, researchers discover the unique pathways and risk factors that signal different intervention needs for women.
- “The Effects of Prison/Jail Visitation on Recidivism” How important is visitation for people inside jails and prisons? Here we see that while many working in criminal justice don’t realize its power and influence, visitation of family and clergy has very real outcomes for inmates.
- “The Rehabilitation Dilemma in Texas County Jails” This important article by Mark Kellar from the University of Houston speaks to what we find in most jails, which is “no treatment, no programs and no classes.”
- A remarkable speech on how the US has criminalized poverty by the veteran advocate for jail/prison reform, Bonnie Kerness, from the American Friends Service Committee.
- New Report on Women Offenders
- CNN Report: Too Many Juveniles Are Being Locked Up
- “Criminalizing” Poverty – How America is incarcerating the poor (10/13/2009).
- ACLU’s Prison & Jail Accountability Project 2006-2007 Guide [pdf]
- Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons
- Federal Report on Dallas County Jail– Report from the office of the Assistant Attorney General of the United States, Wan J. Kim, on the conditions in the Dallas County Jail. This is a must read!
- National Council on Crime and Delinquency: Attitudes of US Voters toward Nonserious Offenders and Alternatives to Incarceration [pdf] (June 2009)
- Texas Commission on Jail Standards 2004 Report [pdf] – As far as we know, there is no more recent report on all these topics. The Jail Commission does do monthly reports on populations of our jails, and you can view those by clicking here.
What is the difference between a STATE jail and a COUNTY jail in Texas?
A state jail facility is run by, or under contract to, the Texas Dept of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). A state jail facility is really not a jail. It is actually a minimum security prison facility, although it is not officially called that.
A county jail is completely different in that it is run by the county, under the power of the local sheriff. It is important to understand that county jails are not part of the Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice.
This is a simple report by a former correctional officer named Bill G on a blog called INYO County Sheriff Talks, December 20, 2010:
There is no one in a state jail facility who is awaiting trial, like in a county jail. Everyone in TDCJ custody is convicted, and serving a sentence.
A state jail felony is a non-violent fourth degree felony, with a sentence of 180 days to two years.
The TDCJ unit directory page lists all correctional facilities operated by, or under contract to, the state.
I worked at a private state jail facility, as well as two different state prisons, during my 4 1/2 years as a correctional officer.
Edit: Although state jail facilities are for,”non-violent fourth degree felons”, they are NOT necessarily less violent than any other prison in the state of Texas. I had plenty of use of force incidents at the state jail facility I was at, as well as the prisons I worked at…..