SHERIFF’S OFFICE BACK IN COMPLIANCE WITH COURTHOUSE CELLS
But staffing still needed
HOUSTON, TX – A re-inspection by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards today found full compliance by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office with state regulations on the use of holding cells for jail inmates being transported to court appearances for their criminal cases.
A surprise inspection Oct. 10 found violations of state regulations on the maximum number of inmates per holding cell and minimum number of jail staff per inmates. Today’s re-inspection confirmed that Harris County Sheriff Garcia, working with judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, court staff and others, had successfully developed a short-term “fix” for the crowding problem.
But the story doesn’t end there.
Capacity in the courthouse basement for inmates on their way to court is below 350 while court dockets continue to request that about 900 inmates be brought to court every day for morning proceedings.
“To manage the challenges long-term, we need more staffing,’’ Sheriff Garcia said. In a series of proposals designed to save money for taxpayers and increase courthouse safety, he has asked Commissioners Court to allow him to hire replacement workers rather than pay more expensive overtime to his understaffed work force.
A county-wide hiring freeze has prevented the Sheriff’s Office from replacing the approximately 500 deputies and civilians who have retired, resigned or been dismissed in the last 24 months.
In early September, Sheriff Garcia submitted to Commissioners Court a consultant’s report showing the staffing shortage was in particular creating potential standards violations in the courthouse holding cells.
Jail Commission Executive Director Adan Munoz stated in a letter to County Judge Ed Emmett that the Sheriff’s Office needs more personnel to operate the courthouse staging areas in the long term.
The sheriff and other stakeholders in the criminal justice system are examining ways to reduce the number of inmates needed in court every weekday. These include: Defense lawyers conferring with clients by video; a court dedicated to accepting guilty pleas; “staggered” delivery of inmates throughout the day and expansion of a program to allow low-risk inmates to serve part of their sentences under house arrest through the use of ankle monitors.
The short-term solution leading to full-compliance involved use of overtime and staggered delivery of inmates for morning dockets.