“The decision marks a small victory for inmate advocates, who’ve pushed to protect in-person visits in as many county jails as possible. But it also means that nearly 30 counties — including Denton County — will get to maintain restrictions on those traditional meetings [offering video visitation only].”
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How did Athena Covarrubias manage to hang herself in a shower stall?
On Tuesday, Aug. 18, a few minutes after 10am, the Travis County Sheriff’s Office sent notice of what will likely be recognized as Texas’ 30th suicide in a county jail this year. The news came just as Lt. Gov.Dan Patrick and Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chair of the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee, were decrying the fact that the state had already recorded 29. Since 2012, 100 have suffered self-inflicted deaths in Texas jails
Outside of the lockups, few know how pregnant women are treated. But for years, Diana Claitor, co-founder and director of the Texas Jail Project, has been trying to get a glimpse inside. Her approach is to work with inmates and families to navigate the system, instructing them on how to file complaints and get help when they need it. In the process, she’s learned a lot about how jails fail pregnant women.
One of the first calls Claitor remembers came in 2007 from a woman whose daughter had miscarried while in jail. She asked Claitor how she could recover the body of her grandchild.
“It was so sad and such a desperate outreach from an older woman who knew of no one to go to,” Claitor said. As word of her organization spread online, she began hearing from more and more women—an outpouring that is reflected in recent data.
When Brenda Martin recalls how her only child’s life came to an end at the age of 37, she knows there was not one isolated event that caused his early demise. But she’s convinced that although he didn’t die in custody, the 73 days he spent in Caldwell County jail directly contributed to his death.
Judging pregnant women is easy to do, especially when they’re in jail. The way some people talk, you’d think that these women set out to a. get pregnant and b. get themselves thrown in jail. Worse still, some officers and officials go on to dismiss any incarcerated woman as immoral, irresponsible, and unconcerned about her baby.
Consequently, when she complains about a lack of food, water, and vitamins, or a lack of medical care, everything she says can be dismissed as a lie. But you already knew that all inmates lie, right?
In a new, in-depth investigatory series from RH Reality Check, we hear an LVN answer a staffer reporting a pregnant woman in extreme distress by saying, “You can go eyeball her and call me back if you want. She’s probably full of shit.” After an agonizing amount of neglect and trauma, that woman’s twin babies died.
Diana Claitor, executive director of the Texas Jail Project, an inmate advocacy organization, said McAuliffe, Ibañez and Gravens are absolutely correct: video visitation should not replace in-person non-contact visits.
“There should be both kinds of visitation and they should definitely not eliminate face-to-face visitations for a couple reasons,” Claitor said. “One is that most people, or a lot of people, don’t relate as well to a video image, especially children. It’s very important for children to be able to see their parents and know they’re OK.”
Secondly, technology can be flawed and Claitor said she’s seen instances across the state where images and sound are flawed and visits are cut short when the system fails.
“This is a constant problem with their visitation and it causes an enormous amount of alienation and anger on part of the families,” Claitor said. “And, as the research shows, visitation is an extremely important indicator on whether people recidivate. It’s a very important part of incarceration whether it be jail or prison.”
“It’s their vulnerability, the fact lots of medical and mental problems occur in jail,” said Diana Claitor, of the Texas Jail Project, which advocates for inmates across the state. “When jails take custody of a human being, they’re constitutionally required to care and protect for them, and maintain pretty much constant supervision of them.”
Of the 24 suicides in the Harris County jail or jails in Waller, Liberty, Montgomery, Fort Bend, Galveston, Chambers and Brazoria county, jailers failed to conduct proper suicide screenings or observation checks in at least a third of them, according to state records.
“Someone doesn’t have to be actively suicidal to spiral downwards,” Claitor said. “There’s a huge emotional impact of being put in jail itself. If they have mental health issues, its even more urgent they be constantly examined and judged as to their mental and emotional state.”
When Sandra Bland was booked at the Waller County Jail, she told the staff she had attempted suicide before — a staff, it turns out, who had not been sufficiently trained on how to safeguard the well-being of inmates who are mentally ill, suicidal or pose a risk to themselves.
The commission has “made some serious efforts to try to increase training, but it’s still, in my opinion, extremely inadequate,” said Diana Claitor, executive director of the Texas Jail Project, which advocates for inmates.
The Austin Chronicle asked TJP’s Executive Director what could prevent further tragedies like the death of Sandra Bland. ‘We need there to be more training of jailers to have the knowledge and temperament to take their role as caretaker very seriously – because the emphasis on security and regimented rules leads to jailers who do not pay attention to the person who may be sick or angry or mentally ill,” says Diana Claitor. “Jailers need to look after the people in their care as if each was a relative instead of viewing them as the enemy. And we need the jail and jailers to be thoroughly investigated each and every time a person dies of suicide or any death inside the jail itself …. Finally, we need independent investigations by someone other than the Texas Rangers, who are not transparent in the least and are extremely connected to the local law enforcement.”
Excellent news from California: for the first time, judges are questioning and stopping the unfair practice of courts demanding bail before drivers are allowed to challenge traffic tickets. The practice had been applied unevenly across California, and just like in Texas, it unfairly affects the poorest among us. In April, legal advocates published a report on the four million Californians who do not have a driver’s license because they either failed to appear or pay up. It’s more than 2 million in Texas! Think about how a change in this practice would mean fewer people in jail, who are also able to drive to their job, stay with their families, and live their lives.