How to Make a Complaint About a County Jail

Step 1

File your complaint with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the state agency that oversees county jails. To report a problem, complete their online form: 

Follow up by writing or calling, but send the online complaint first.

Step 2

Inmates should file a grievance at the jail. They should do this, even if they or their family members also send in a complaint in to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. (Make copies or keep a record of the dates of grievances.)

Step 3

Inmates need to write a copy of everything they send to the sheriff or Jail Commission officials. That is the paper trail. If they cannot copy it, make notes: keep a list of all the complaints or grievances with dates. Make notes about who was asked for help filing a grievance and what they said.

Why? There is a law that says if you ever have the need to sue a jail, you have to have tried to file a grievance while you were inside that jail. However, there are exceptions. Our best advice: tell your inmate to file a grievance and keep a record of when he or she did that.

Other Steps and Considerations

  • Email us a copy of your complaint.
  • Ask people in your town to call the sheriff. It helps to have a pastor or member of the religious or business community speak to the sheriff or jail administrator. Make sure they know the details so they can describe the situation.
  • Write a letter of complaint to the sheriff: Be polite, keep it short and focus on the problems you see in the jail, like unhealthy conditions or bad treatment. Do not curse or give a life history. If you don’t think it will get to the sheriff, mail to a relative and have them hand deliver it to the sheriff’s office.
  • Some will tell you that grievances do nothing. and in fact, some guards have been known to throw them away. But grievances are a part of the legal record and they can help. If the jail staff doesn’t take it seriously or says they don’t have a form, an inmate can write a letter to the jail administrator/boss or to the sheriff and ask for grievance forms; the inmate can remind them that grievance forms are required by law.
  • Many lawyers who are representing the person accused or advising on the charges will NOT help you with problems of mistreatment in the jail. Some will not even go to the jail and speak in person to the inmate, and so if possible, before you hire an attorney, ask if they will visit the inmate at the jail.
  • If someone has been threatened with retaliation, please describe that in your complaint. We have not heard of retribution against inmates for complaining to the Commission probably because once a complaint is reported, the jail knows that eyes are watching. Most everyone agrees that inmates should speak up and report abuse or neglect or unsafe conditions, however. (If you believe that giving your inmate’s name could be risky for her or him, please email us and we’ll talk about that.)