Harris County approves $122 million to improve the jail and considers building a new facility

Nick Natario Image
Wednesday, June 5, 2024
Harris County approves millions of dollars to improve the jail
After a $122 million item was approved, the Harris County Jail is expected to see safety improvements following the deaths of 49 inmates since 2022.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Millions of dollars are going toward improving security and safety at the Harris County Jail, but grieving loved ones believe it's not enough.

After nearly 50 people died at the county jail over the last few years, leaders have worked to reduce the number. It's a statistic Jacilet Griffin knows too well.

"It has just been horrible," Griffin explained. "It's a nightmare. I wouldn't want anyone else to have to experience this."

Griffin's son, Evan, was killed at the jail two years ago.

"I know it's not a castle, but it should be a rehabilitation center and not a place of so many custodial deaths," Griffin said.

Griffin shared that message as she spoke to commissioners on Tuesday. Recently, officials formed a committee to recommend changes.

On Tuesday, we heard the first batch. The committee recommended a dozen projects to address items like plumbing, electricity, and other security issues that they say need to be addressed immediately.

A $122 million item was approved.

"It is a lot more money than I would like to be spending on this, but I don't think we have a choice," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said.

The money doesn't tackle the jail's staffing shortage. The sheriff's office told ABC13 it's short 180 officers.

Because of this, a state committee ruled last month that more inmates will be removed. More than 1,500 have already been shipped out of the county.

County Administrator Diana Ramirez said they're trying to get more officers by changing the pay scale and conducting surveys.

"We're looking at when people jump, When do they go to another job," Ramirez explained.

The answer could also be a new jail. County employees will tour other facilities this summer, and a design consultant will be hired.

Hidalgo doesn't want to house more inmates but wants to offer new opportunities.

"I just don't think that there's a way for this jail to be what we need to carry out the programs we need to carry out," Hidalgo said.

Grieving loved ones aren't sure new walls are the answer.

"I know that the jail isn't a perfect place, as I stated earlier, but it shouldn't be a place where anyone loses their life," Griffin said.

The jail is seeing improvement. In 2022, 27 inmates died. Last year, it was 19. So far, in 2024, three inmates have died.

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