Harris Co. Jail cited for overcapacity, insufficient staffing

Harris County Jail was cited for overcrowding

October 10, 2011 3:47:51 PM PDT
A surprise inspection at the Harris County Jail uncovers a potentially dangerous situation -- hundreds of inmates and just a handful of people in charge of watching them.

We've been telling you about the overcrowding problem at the jail for years. Just last year, the jail finally lived up to state standards. But on Monday, it took another big step back when inspectors checked holding cells beneath the courthouse.

The county jail goes through yearly inspections, and although the main jail has improved in the last two years, the holding facilities below the courthouse are a major problem and inspectors are worried it could get out of hand.

Harris County Capt. Debra Schmidt doesn't have to be told by state inspectors that the holding facilities in Harris County has a problem. She lives it every day.

"We have too many inmates coming to court and not enough deputies to assist in handling those inmates," Schmidt said.

Hundreds of prisoners are transported daily from the county jail to holding facilities below the courthouse daily. On Monday morning, those holding facilities got a surprise inspection from the state, and not surprisingly, they failed.

At 1301 Franklin, the inspection says capacity for the 10 cells is 117 and the report found 252 inmates. At 1201 Franklin, capacity for the eight cells is 148 and there were 368 inmates.

"...Harris County Jail was not maintaining a 1-48 officer-to-inmate ratio...the facility housed 409 inmates and 5 officers were on duty," inspectors said in a report.

"We're working a lot of overtime in order to meet the needs upstairs; every court runs a full docket every single day," Capt. Schmidt said.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia says the hiring freeze by Harris County Commissioners Court is one of the main reasons he hasn't been able to keep up to state standards. When jailers leave, they haven't been replaced.

"I would like Commissioners Court to authorize the 260 bodies that we need, and that I've been requesting so that we can save taxpayers money and so we can get the proper level of staffing into our operations that we need," Garcia said.

But County Commissioner Steve Radack says the sheriff will soon get 60 additional full time jailers and the sheriff simply not managing his resources.

"I know he has problems with managing the jail, but when you have too many people in a holding cell -- those people didn't lock themselves in there," Radack said.

Commissioners is expected vote Tuesday to turn 60 part-timers into full-timers, and if commissioners approve it, Sheriff Garcia also be able to hire an additional 60 part-time employees.

But for now, the holding area will remain overcapacity, and Sheriff Garcia says even if it all happens, there still won't be enough county jailers.

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