Shortly before each quarterly meeting, the commission website posts an agenda that lists which jails will be questioned and what issues will be discussed. You can find out about the meetings and workshops here but it’s not always up to date: http://www.tcjs.state.tx.us/index.php?linkID=130At the meeting, sheriffs and adminstrators stand before the commission to explain their situation and the problems they are having as they try to meet the standards. Sometimes the times, the sheriff asks for a “variance,” which is the way a jail can get special permission to temporarily break the rules. For example, a jail may need to make repairs to a foundation or replace plumbing, and so the jail asks to temporarily exceed the number of beds allowed per cell, reducing the amount of space each inmate has.Big city jails are complicated systems holding thousands of inmates and the more than 200 small rural jails that have limited staff, space and budgets, while also dealing with complex populations. And TCJS walks the fine line of overseeing all of the jails and holding them to the regulations, at the same time, allowing for underfunded operations.Being a jailer is a difficult, frustrating, and sometimes dangerous job, but that is no excuse for the nightmarish conditions and dehumanization of inmates that is allowed in many Texas jails. Unfortunately, at the Jail Commission meetings, you don’t hear much about concerns like those and seldom any mention of the inmates at all.The Jail Commission’s oversight of our jails is not enough–all of us working for better jails know that–but we are glad to have them as the inspectors provide a set of eyes INSIDE the jails, to see what the policies and practices are. TCJS was designed to provide oversight of building maintenance, sanitation, and fire safety, and they check to see if jails are employing licensed jailers who have gone through the training.TCJS doesn’t have the authority to investigate anything involving criminal acts, such as rape or assault. You need to report crimes like those to the Texas Rangers and/or the FBI. And please let the Texas Jail Project know, too! Remember, the legislature created TCJS to help counties avoid liabilty and lawsuits, and so they are not focused on humane treatment and human rights as much as they should be. Moreover, TCJS works hand in hand with sheriffs, and sheriffs tend to have a single focus regarding jails: security. That means complete control and no escapes–thus, they tend to turn a blind eye toward many other important aspects of holding human beings in custody, such as good educational programs that can help prevent recidivism.
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 establishishing 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 inpectors 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 Dallas 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 at the website of TCJS. You wait for a response, and finally you call them. But they tell you that there’s a catch–the “standards” do not govern medical care. Each jail is responsible for choosing its doctor or medical provider, and that’s who decides what treatment to give.
However, the inspector will probably voice your concern to the jail administrator, and strangely enough, just having the Jail Commission call them up and tell them about the complaint sometimes causes the jail administrator to check on an inmate’s medical condition. That combination of an outside agency questioning them sometimes results in an inmate like Leah getting better care—and more than an over-the-counter antacid. So make a complaint if there is a real concern about lack of care.