by Benjamin Tschirhart
They knew it was coming: The Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) mandates a yearly inspection of all jail facilities in the state. The goal is to support local governments in maintaining “safe, secure and suitable local jail facilities.”
This is especially important, considering most jail detainees have not been convicted of a crime. But when TCJS inspectors visited the Nueces County Jail in late June 2022, the conditions they found were dismaying. Sheriff J.C. Hooper says the answer is a new facility, since the current jail is “old, it’s crumbling … held together by Band-Aids.”
Some of the problems may be attributed to age: broken intercoms, clogged sinks, too-few cells that result in overcrowding. But some of what TCJS found isn’t so easy to blame on an old building. The kitchen was dirty. Dried food stuck to appliances. Mold grew in the ice machine. The walk-in freezer was so clogged with ice that the door wouldn’t close. The inspection report also noted that some detainees were kept in holding cells without furniture or beds for over 48 hours, in violation of state jail standards.
In its notice of non-compliance, TCJS said overpopulation was the jail’s main problem. Partly, this was due to the sheer number of prisoners and detainees: 1,192 people held in a space designed for a maximum of 1,164. But many cells had broken intercoms, meaning they couldn’t comply with regulations requiring effective two-way communication with guards. That alone rendered 39 jail beds unusable. See: Texas Commission on Jail Standards – Notice of Non-compliance – Nueces County Jail (August 4, 2022).
This is the second year in a row that TCJS has found the jail in non-compliance. Moreover, some detainees “were not provided access to a day room for at least one hour each day.” Others “were not provided the opportunity to be allowed one hour of supervised physical recreation or physical exercise at least three days a week.” See: Texas Commission on Jail Standards – Inspection Report – Nueces County Jail (July 14–15, 2021).
District Court Judge Missy Medary and multiple attorneys have told county commissioners that a large share of those held in the jail suffer from mental illness — at least 25%, they say. According to attorney Danice Obregon, “The problem is, without addressing the mental health … [t]he system is not working … for our community.” Court officers also say that these vulnerable people lack adequate representation by their counsel, who are untrained in dealing with mentally ill clients.
Additional source: KRIS
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