May 3rd, Thursday: the next meeting of the Jail Commission

Apr 30th, 2018 | By | Category: Lead Article

Every 3 months, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) holds a quarterly meeting in Austin, during sheriffs, jailers and county commissioners from all over the state speak to the commissioners. They explain their situation and the problems they are having as they try to meet the standards. Many times, the sheriff from a bigger county, like Harris County, asks for “variances,” which is the way a jail can get special permission to temporarily exceed the number of beds allowed, or by temporarily having fewer staff than required. In other words, the jail asks for TCJS to let them stretch the rules.

At the same time, the staff of TCJS reports on jails that failed their inspections, activities of the staff and plans for the future. Some of it is complicated, but then, 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.

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 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.

TCJS quarterly meetings in Austin

So make a complaint if there is a real concern about lack of care.

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