Protesters Slam Taylor County Jail at Rally

Oct 16th, 2008 | By | Category: In The News, Taylor County, Texas Jail Project


by Jerry Daniel Reed, ReporterNews.com

Leaders of the Texas Jail Project on Tuesday delivered a harsh indictment of the Taylor County Jail, including a mock “Texas Hellhole Award.”

The organization announced the designation at a news conference and rally at the war memorial north of the Taylor County Courthouse that attracted roughly two dozen people.

The Abilene jail’s selection stemmed from a “gut feeling,” jail project director Diana Claitor said. But she also brought a large envelope that she said contained about 200 pages of complaints about the local jail sent to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

Taylor County Commissioner Stan Egger is a member of the jail standards commission.

Sheriff Jack Dieken labeled the organization’s finding “unfounded, untrue and unwarranted.” He said parents of inmates should have come to him first with questions about their treatment, rather than the media or an advocacy group.

“My door has been open for 16 years,” Dieken said, referring to his tenure as sheriff.

Dieken will leave office at the end of the year. Voters will choose between Republican Les Bruce, who defeated Dieken in the GOP primary, and Democrat Art Casarez on Nov. 4.

Claitor said no precise statistical comparisons can be made among Texas jails, because no standard record-keeping system is required of them.

The 2-½-year-old organization advocates several changes in how Texas jails operate, including resident review boards not connected with sheriff’s offices.

Other suggested reforms include:

  • More community involvement, including by church congregations, to provide support for inmates and to keep the public aware of what happens in the jails.
  • More training and better pay for county corrections officers.
  • Real investigations of complaints about jails, with consequences for wrongdoing.

Diane Wilson, a shrimper from Seadrift, said that she and two women supporters founded the Texas Jail Project after Wilson spent four months in a Victoria jail resulting from what she called resistance to pollution. The women’s health care was neglected, two women had committed suicide in the shower, and several had gone months without access to a judge or a lawyer, Wilson said.

Lance Voorhees, a volunteer chaplain in the county jail, listed several complaints concerning inmates’ treatment that he included in a letter to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott dated Sept. 8, 2006. Several involved the alleged use of pepper spray as corporal punishment, plus the alleged withholding of medications, physical abuse, and taunting of inmates with mental problems.

Cheryl Freeman, the mother of a former misdemeanor inmate, said county jailers once threw her son to the floor and kicked him, pepper-sprayed him and then did not allow him to immediately wash off. He also was denied his medications at times and was taunted that he should hang himself, she said.

Dieken said the jail standards commission and the Texas Rangers have exonerated the county jail after investigating complaints about mistreatment of inmates.

“Jail Standards said we have done nothing wrong, and our records are up to date. Our discipline records are up to date. We have nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed of,” Dieken said.

County Commissioner Egger voiced confidence in the efforts of both the jail standards commission and Taylor County officials to improve the county jail and others in the state. He said he is especially proud of Taylor County’s record regarding inmates with mental disabilities.

The jail commission seeks to address concerns, such as making the complaint process “easier and smoother.”

As for the county jail, he said, “If there is a problem, it’s not because we haven’t tried to fund what we needed to do.”

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One Comment to “Protesters Slam Taylor County Jail at Rally”

  1. Anonymous says:

    How can I contact a chaplain to have him visit my son in Taylor County Jail

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