Thursday, August 2nd—the Jail Commission meets in Austin

Apr 30th, 2018 | By | Category: Featured Articles

Every 3 months, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) holds a meeting in Austin, and you can make comments during public input. That happens right after they call it to order so be there at 9 am sharp; allow time to park. You need to be brief: 3 minutes is the time they allow you; they listen and don’t comment, but if you stay to the end, you can speak to the staff of the commission informally.

Meeting info is posted here, but it’s only updated the week before the meeting.

During the meeting, you’ll see which sheriffs, jailers and county commissioners from all over the state have come to speak to the commissioners. They explain their situation and any problems they are having. At the same time, the director and staff of TCJS reports on jails that failed their inspections, activities of the staff, and proposed changes in the 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 and others on the verge of suicide. Keeping enough officers is another challenge because turnover is a constant in a world where the pay is low and frustrations high.

Big city jails are complex systems holding thousands of inmates and hundreds of staff members. The more than 200 small rural jails that have limited staff, space and budgets, while also dealing with a diverse population. TCJS walks the fine line of overseeing all of the jails and holding them to the standards, at the same time, allowing for all kinds of building and locations in 254 counties.

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 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 at the website of TCJS.  You wait for a response, and finally you call them. But TCJS will 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 you should submit a complaint if there is a real concern about lack of care and email Texas Jail Project to let us know: texasjailproject@gmail.com.

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