Report Critical of County Lockup

Harris County Commissioners discuss a U.S. Department of Justice report that detailed problems in the Harris County Jail. The report included an alarming number of inmate deaths due to poor medical care. Pat Hernandez has the story.

The report is based on inspections made at the Harris County ail last summer, along with a review of documents provided by the Sheriff’s Department, which oversees the lockup. The report cited 142- inmate deaths since 2001, but an alarming number of those deaths were due to poor medical care. Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack:

“The fact is that you’re dealing with almost 11-thousand prisoners a day, and you’re gonna have deaths from people in the jail, there are people there that have severe health problems. But I think it’s very important that we pay attention to what the Department of Justice has to say and that we take a look at it and respond in the correct manner.”

Keir Murray is spokesman for Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia. He says the report by the Justice Dept is based on what the jail was like before Garcia took office in January. He says the sheriff is committed to improving the jail.

“Yes. For example, on the medical concerns and mental health concerns which were major areas of concern in the report, the new sheriff has instituted a peer review policy, where we have the medical director from UT-Houston looking over the medical services, the medical director for MHMRA doing a peer review process over mental health services, we’ve been able to eliminate the backlog of patients waiting for mental health services. A quarter of the inmates are on psychotropic medication in the jails, so we’ve been able to alleviate some of those problems, and it’s just part of a longer list of policy changes that are underway.”

Overall, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett calls the report fairly positive, even with the episodic events where individual cases are isolated.

“Any time you take a facility that handles 135-thousand people per year, you’re going to have instances and, are all the employees going to be the absolute best? Probably not, but you could say that about any large institution. I think the briefing we’ve gotten from the county attorney says that they want to read the whole report in its totality,  not just on the isolated examples.”

Emmett says the county attorney is preparing a response to the report by the Justice Department. It has about 49-days to decide whether to file suit based on its findings.

Pat Hernandez, KUHF…Houston Public Radio News.