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Harris County Sheriff's Office
Friday August 18th, 2023 :: 04:09 p.m. CDT


Harris County Jail Makes Progress Toward Meeting State Requirements

Aug. 18, 2023 -- The Harris County Jail has made significant strides toward achieving full compliance with state requirements, according to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

The commission reported Friday on the initial findings of a week-long compliance inspection. Previously documented compliance issues related to health care services in the jail have now been corrected, the commission found. 

However, the commission reported that chronic understaffing has resulted in an inability to consistently meet state requirements related to the observation of people in jail, minimum staffing ratios, and time delays during the booking process.  Currently, the jail has nearly 180 vacant detention officer positions, further compounded by an inmate population approaching 9,500.

Jail Commission inspectors cited the backlog of cases pending in Harris County’s criminal courts as a major factor contributing to the situation. The average stay for a person booked into the Harris County Jail is nearly 200 days, compared to about 30 days at the typical Texas jail. 

Harris County Commissioners Court recently approved a $2,000 annual retention stipend for detention officers, with the first payments scheduled for October. A recent independent analysis of the jail’s staffing situation recommended a minimum 12% pay increase for detention officers, and Sheriff Ed Gonzalez has informed Commissioners Court members that implementing this pay raise is his top priority for the coming fiscal year.

Commission members have said they may order Harris County to outsource more of the jail population to for-profit jails outside Harris County if staffing issues are not rectified soon.

The preliminary findings of the inspection note improvements in delivering quality healthcare services in a timely manner. The responsiveness of the staff and the overall cleanliness of the jail were also included as improvements the inspection team recognized.

The Harris Health System has taken on the responsibility of providing medical care within the jail. The county's commitment to enhancing medical services is evident in the increase of annual jail medical spending to $93.9 million, marking a 24% rise since 2021. This effort has led to notable improvements in reducing wait times for healthcare services and streamlining the distribution of prescription medications. 

The jail’s mortality rate for 2023 is lower than the statewide average and lower than the average among Texas’ largest county jails. Sheriff Ed Gonzalez has ordered increased screening of employees and visitors entering the jail to prevent the distribution of potentially deadly illegal drugs that have led to at least one jail death so far this year. Sheriff Gonzalez has also invested more department resources into investigating illegal contraband in the jail.

To improve accountability and transparency in the jail operation, Sheriff Gonzalez has ordered the implementation of a body-worn camera program in the jail, which will be among the first of its kind in Texas jails. 

“I want to commend our Sheriff’s Office team for pulling together to make significant progress toward our goal of making the jail safer for everyone who lives and works there,” Sheriff Gonzalez said. “They deserve the full support of our leaders and our community for the valuable service they provide under extremely difficult circumstances.”

The Harris County Jail is among a list of 10 non-compliant jails in the state of Texas. The final inspection report from the Texas Jail Commission on Jail Standards will be released soon. The Harris County Sheriff's Office is committed to cooperating closely with all relevant stakeholders to address the identified deficiencies and ensure a safe and secure environment for those in our custody and those who care for them. 

Harris County Sheriff's Office
1200 Baker St
Houston, TX 77002

Emergency: 9-1-1
Non-emergencies: 713-221-6000

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