Harris Co. Jail's reported continued non-compliance comes after 4 inmates died in January alone

13 Investigates reported last August on the jail's issues with long inmate wait times, which was one part of the non-compliance.

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Saturday, February 18, 2023
Jail still non-compliant after latest check, sheriff's office says
The Texas Commission on Jail Standards spent the week inspecting the under-fire Harris County Jail six months after an original notice of non-compliance, the sheriff's office said.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Improved cleanliness inside the Harris County Jail, which dealt with four inmate deaths last month, was not enough to drop them from state inspectors' non-compliance list, the sheriff's office said on Friday.

An announcement was made after the Texas Commission on Jail Standards completed a weeklong inspection of the detention center, where the sheriff's office said 24 areas were reviewed, including the admission and release process and health services, which were two things that 13 Investigates shined a light on late last year.

ORIGINAL REPORT: Harris Co. inmates wait too long to get into jail, fix costs you millions

The Harris County Sheriff's Office touched on an ongoing staff shortage contributing to the non-compliance, which the jail was first informed of last September.

Two mothers whose children died while in custody spoke out against the conditions at the jail Friday, marked by the two-year anniversary of Jaquaree Simmons' death.

Investigators said detention officers used force during an altercation. Eleven officers were fired and one of them, Eric Morales, was charged with causing Simmons' injuries. He's the first, and so far only, detention officer ever to be charged in Harris County, according to prosecutors.

The mothers, joined by activists, found it no surprise that the Harris County Jail does not meet state standards.

SEE ALSO: Former jail officer Eric Morales becomes 1st in Harris Co. to be charged for inmate's death

The lack of visual checks by detention officers on incarcerated people played a role, when Simmons died, investigators said.

Deborah Smith believed her diabetic daughter didn't receive proper health care, and the preliminary report also showed some incarcerated people still aren't receiving medication on time.

SEE ALSO: Families of Harris County inmates in Austin to advocate for loved ones who died in jail

"It's no way it should've taken this long to get special investigations to come and see what's going on in Houston," Smith said.

"It disgusts me. It disgusts me, and I want to shut this thing down," Simmons' mother, LaRhonda Biggles, said

"The jail did not meet the compliance standard that requires staff to consistently perform visual checks on people in the jail within the required time. Inspectors also noted that people who are being booked into jail are often waiting too long before they are assigned to a cell," an HCSO statement read, adding that a total of 250 positions remain to be filled.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: 13 Investigates on Harris County Jail's issues and other ongoing investigations

The sheriff's office said it will need to draft a corrective action plan due 30 days from Friday.

"We take the results of the inspection very seriously and appreciate the guidance. We are actively working in all areas of our detentions system to put corrective plans in place and with proper staffing to handle the overcrowded jail population, we can promptly address the deficiencies," Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said.

For its part, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards explained that any findings inspectors made are preliminary, and it isn't commenting on inspection reports.

"Commission staff were on site this week conducting a comprehensive inspection of the Harris County Jail System," Brandon Wood, the commission's executive director, wrote in a statement. "Results of any inspection are preliminary and not finalized until reviewed and approved by the Executive Director. After confirmation that county officials have received their copy of an inspection report, the agency will provide copies upon request. Commission staff does not comment on preliminary reports, regardless of the outcome of the inspection."

SEE ALSO: Top leader resigns at Harris County jail amid overcrowding, deaths

13 Investigates has reported on glaring issues at the jail over the past year, including a build-up of inmates waiting days to be booked and overcrowding. Most glaring, though, was mortality among the jail population.

Twenty-eight inmates, including 25 under the jail's care, died in HCSO's custody last year, which is the highest counted in a decade.

The jail's population was also the highest it has been in that same span, with more than 10,000 inmates, including even more individuals who have been charged with crimes but are housed in facilities in Louisiana and west Texas.

January 2023 proved to be just as deadly, with the jail counting four deaths behind its walls.

Despite the continued problems, County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced plans earlier this month to address overcrowding by expanding treatment options for severely mentally ill inmates, referring to those who have been found incompetent to stand trial. It is slated to start in April.

The idea behind it, according to the county, is to speed up trials and free up jail facilities, but it only impacts about 2% of the jail population.

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