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Sheriff’s Office Will Make Harris County Jail More Child-Friendly

The HCSO has won a grant for training and technical assistance from the National Institute of Corrections.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez (center) during a press conference held on Feb. 12, 2019, to discuss plans to make the county jail more child-friendly through a grant for training and technical assistance from the National Institute of Corrections.

Experts from the National Institute of Corrections are visiting Houston this week as part of an initiative to make the Harris County jail more child-friendly. Over the past year, the Sheriff’s Office conducted a needs assessment on children of incarcerated parents in collaboration with Texas Children’s Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Texas Medical Branch.

The assessment was funded by the Texas Medical Center Health Policy Institute and included interviews with inmates and caregivers of children that have parents in jail. The study found that seven percent of all Harris County children have a parent who spends time in the county jail each year.

The study also found half of inmates have at least one child under the age of 18, and 61 percent of incarcerated parents provided all or most of the financial support for their children before being jailed.

Hardships

During a press conference held on Tuesday, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez underscored the multiple hardships children of incarcerated individuals face. “Children are traumatized by being separated from their parent. Sometimes they have to change homes and schools routinely,” Gonzalez noted.

Gonzalez also said these children suffer shame and feelings of isolation, and have urgent basic needs like food and emotional support.

The Sheriff categorized his department’s goal to make the jail more child-friendly as “ambitious.” “We seek to make visitation more child-friendly, making a child-friendly space in the visitors’ lobbies, developing curricula and training deputies on interacting with the children when they visit the jail,” he said.

Gonzalez also plans on reviewing his department’s policies and determining best practices for when deputies arrest a parent while a child is present. 

Updating the Harris County jail website to include information on community resources is also part of the initiative, which is partially grant-funded. 

Long separations

Nancy Correa, senior community initiatives coordinator at Texas Children’s Hospital, said many children are separated from their jailed parents for months and suffer trauma and confusion.

Correa added research shows that some of these children start acting out in school and their grades drop. “Children of incarcerated parents have been overlooked and they are the innocent and forgotten victims of crime in our community,” she said.

The Harris County jail is the biggest jail in Texas and the third largest in the United States.

You can watch the press conference here:

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Alvaro ‘Al’ Ortiz

General Assignment Reporter

Alvaro 'Al' Ortiz is originally from Spain. He worked for several years in his home country and gained experience in all platforms of journalism, from wire services to print, as well as broadcast news and digital reporting. In 2001, Al came to the United States to pursue a Master's degree...

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