Commissioners authorize more hiring for overcrowded Harris Co. Jail

October 11, 2011 10:26:00 AM PDT
Harris County commissioners Tuesday authorized a plan to put more officers on jail duty.

This comes one day after the jail failed a state inspection because the guard to prisoner ratio was not up to standards -- there were too few guards for too many prisoners.

The jail overcrowding problem is not new; it's had staffing issues for years. Today's vote by commissioner's court is long overdue for some involved in the situation.

The commissioners agreed to convert 120 part-time jail positions into full-time positions, and commissioners will give Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia 60 additional part-time positions.

The problem is that a lot of this is still barely making up for the attrition rate at the Harris Co. Sheriff's Office. Sheriff Garcia says he would like to hire 260 staffers so they can be paid on straight time and not have to spend millions on overtime to staff the jail and holding area. Those holding cells are where the deficiencies occurred in Monday's inspection report.

Those are basically in the basements of two courthouse buildings where inmates wait to be transferred to and from court.

According to the state, the Harris County Jail should have one officer for every 48 inmates, but the inspectors' report says the jail wasn't maintaining that ratio.

Instead, the findings indicate there were only five officers on duty for 409 inmates. Further, the report found the holding cells are way over capacity.

At 1301 Franklin, for 10 cells, maximum capacity should be 117 people. Instead, the report found 252. And at 1201 Franklin, for 8 cells, max capacity is 148. But the state found more than twice that many people -- 368 inmates.

"We have too many inmates coming to court and not enough deputies in assisting to handle those inmates," said Capt. Debra Schmidt with the Harris County Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia blames the jail's failure to maintain state standards on the hiring freeze by Harris County commissioners.

Even with today's decision by commissioners, the reality is the number of staffers available isn't enough.

"This authorization obviously is a step in the right direction, but it's not the answer," said Sheriff Garcia. "We need to make sure to hire the staff that we need to run the operations efficiently and effectively and to serve the entire system."

The sheriff says he is spending about $18 million a year in overtime just to staff the jails properly. He says if he's allowed to hire more people, then those overtime costs could go down by several million dollars.

However, some of the commissioners say Sheriff Garcia just needs to better manage his current resources.

Load Comments