Adam Munoz, executive director of the TCJS, announced the first successful inspection of the Dallas County Jail on August 11, 2010. The jail system had last passed a TCJS inspection in 2003 – one year before current Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez was elected.
Despite having spent over $100 million on improving fire safety systems, maintenance and staffing ratios in recent years, the jail remained under a federal court order to improve medical and mental health services. The court order was issued after a 2006 investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice revealed that serious health care issues had contributed to the deaths or serious injuries of several prisoners. [See: PLN, May 2011, p.16; Nov. 2007, p.14].
Dallas County’s jail system had failed a surprise TCJS inspection as recently as March 2010, largely due to inadequate smoke detection and removal equipment in the north tower jail, the county’s largest and most populous facility. Also, three high-ranking sheriff’s officials did not have a jailer’s license, among other problems.
The August 2010 inspection focused on $20 million worth of smoke detection and removal equipment installed in the north tower. Smoke detection and removal is especially important in high-rise jails like those in Dallas because the multi-story configuration makes it difficult to evacuate prisoners. The west tower and George Allen jails had previously been retrofitted with similar equipment.
“Dallas County took the time to invest,” Munoz stated. “It’s a testament to Dallas County for the effort they made to get this jail back into compliance.” However, he also warned that a rapidly-rising prisoner population may make future inspections of the jail system more difficult to pass.
“Now the challenge for Dallas County is to stay in compliance,” said Munoz, who noted that the TCJS has the power to force the county to transfer prisoners to other facilities, at a cost of millions of dollars, should its jail system become overcrowded or fall below a ratio of one staff member per 48 prisoners.
Continued compliance is indeed the question, but the county has thus far managed to maintain required jail standards and stay in compliance.
Dallas County passed its second TCJS inspection in April 2011, with inspectors giving high marks to the jail system. “It is one of the best inspections we’ve had in 7 years!” remarked TCJS Assistant Director Shannon Herklotz, who said the jails had passed all standards in key areas such as medical care, staffing and sanitation.
The county’s jails also received a favorable inspection from the U.S. Dept. of Justice in September 2011, which was the last in a series of court-ordered inspections related to medical and mental health care.
Most recently, Dallas County’s jail system passed a TCJS inspection in March 2012, for the third time in a row. “I can’t say enough how clean this place was,” said Herklotz. “It’s definitely a model for a lot of people to look at.”
Of course it took a federal lawsuit, over $100 million in improvements and seven years to reach that point, while thousands of prisoners were held in the county’s jails in conditions that repeatedly failed state inspections during that time period.
Sources: Dallas Morning News, www.myfoxdfw.com, www.wfaa.com
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