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Taylor County, Texas Rarely Disciplines Jailers

Compared to scandals at the Harris County Jail in Houston – where guards have assaulted and had sex with prisoners, mistakenly released prisoners and abandoned their posts to play dominos [see: PLN, Sept. 2013, p.23] – problems at the Taylor County Jail in Abilene, Texas seem fairly tame.

According to news reports, 28 of 135 employees at the Taylor County jail were disciplined in the three years prior to 2012, but the disciplinary action was minor and the misconduct much less serious than at Harris County. None of the discipline resulted in termination.

Former Taylor County Sheriff Les Bruce had a three-tier approach to employee discipline. First, an employee was given a letter of counseling. If that didn’t correct the problem, a letter of reprimand was issued. The last resort, termination, was reserved for when the letters did not have the desired effect of correcting errant behavior.

During the three-year period, two jail guards were reprimanded for “major booking errors.” One received a letter of counseling after he was caught surfing the Internet on the job after having received repeated prior warnings.

Other deputies were reprimanded for sleeping while on the job or in connection with the escape of two prisoners. One received a letter of counseling after five incidents of verbally abusing prisoners within nine months. Another employee was reprimanded for making “several medication errors on numerous times.”

One jailer didn’t check on a noise coming from a cell block which turned out to be a prisoner banging his head against the walls and doors, injuring himself enough to bleed from a head wound. The same guard was later disciplined again for yelling at prisoners in a cell block who were threatening to riot if the air conditioner wasn’t repaired, which allegedly caused the prisoners to become more aggressive.

Another jailer was reprimanded for releasing a prisoner a month early; the prisoner later turned himself in to complete his remaining sentence.

Repeated tardiness was also a problem among employees at the jail. Then-Sheriff Bruce noted that was a serious issue due to the need to maintain a mandatory guard-to-prisoner ratio at the facility.

“It’s very important to have those jailers there to receive briefing notes during shift changes,” he said. “They need to know what has been going on in that facility since they left.”

So long as misconduct by Taylor County jail employees mainly involves yelling at prisoners, surfing the Internet and being late for work, though, such transgressions pale in comparison to problems at other jails where guards have sexually abused prisoners or beaten and tasered them – sometimes to death.


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