The Texas Commission on Jail Standards regulates conditions and operations of Texas’ 245 county jails to ensure that no one is left unattended or kept in unsafe conditions. The Austin American-Statesman reports that for more than 370 city and town jails across the state, there is no such oversight – despite continuing reports of suicides, unhealthy and cramped conditions, and growing fears by some legislative leaders and law enforcement officials that the lack of regulation is a recipe for disaster.
A Harlingen jail has been criticized for not providing showers or necessary medical care and for feeding inmates only sandwiches; a woman who was locked up in one small-town jail for three hours was given a cell phone to call for help because the jail was unattended; and in some towns, suspects are left handcuffed to benches for hours with little or no supervision. “Putting someone in a cell and leaving them not properly attended is not right,” said Adan Muñoz, chairman of the state jail standards panel. “The person could be sick. They may need medication. They may be suicidal. Many of these facilities don’t do any intake. It’s a scary situation.” While some legislative leaders are pushing to regulate the jails for the first time, they are not optimistic that it will happen. A report from the jail standards agency estimates that it would take an additional $390,000 a year to monitor and inspect the local jails, at a time when the state faces a $21 billion revenue shortfall.