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Recommendations for Jail Standards Sunset Review

Every 12 years, the Texas Legislature reviews state agencies to determine whether their missions merit continuation and what changes or improvements need to be made. The process is overseen by the Texas Sunset Advisory Committee and gives advocates a chance to highlight successes and failures in the agencies. While the review of the troubled-but-improving Texas Youth Commission this year will probably dominate much of the press and advocacy interest this year, the Texas Commission of Jail Standards, the agency charged with overseeing Texas' massive county jail system, is also up for review and deserves a close look.

The Commission (commonly known as TCJS in the prison reform world) also has jurisdiction over lock-ups, both public and private, that house any out-of-state inmates. In 2003, the agency was stripped of its oversight of detention centers, overwhelmingly operated by private prison corporations, that house only federal detainees, creating a large number of facilities in Texas completely unregulated by a state agency.

I generally think the leadership of TCJS, headed by Adan Muñoz, is doing a good job, though are tremendously under-resources. See a related Grits post from last year for more analysis on this. Muñoz, a former West Texas sheriff, has noted in several contexts that mental illness is the number one issue pushing jail expansion in the state.

The Sunset Committee distributes a survey in the lead-up to the review, which I sent in for Grassroots Leadership last week. Amongst my recommendations,

1. Substantially enhance the ability of the Commission to successfully oversee jail facilities by adding at least two inspectors to Commission staff, and ehancing oversight of medical and mental health issues in jail facilities – possibly by dedicating one inspector to exclusively oversee mental health and health-related issues in jail facilities.

2. Expand membership of the Commission to include one member of the mental health community, as well as a member of a human rights organization or family organization to represent incarcerated people on the Commission.

3. Expand jurisdiction of TCJS to include:

  • Oversight of jails and detention centers housing only federal detainees. As mentioned above, this duty was stripped from the agency earlier this decade in a legislative decision.
  • Oversight of all private correctional facilities in the state not under the jurisdiction of the TDCJ or TYC monitoring
  • Oversight of municipal jails. I'm not overly familiar with municipal jails, but some towns in Texas have city-operated jails in addition to their county facilities. These facilities are not under the current purview of TCJS.
  • Out-of-state jails housing Texas prisoners such as the Louisiana private jails housing Harris County prisoners, or develop a legislative remedy to ban the exportation of Texas county detainees to other states.

If conditions in Texas jails matter to you or you simply want more information, visit and consider making a donation to the Texas Jail Project, which is one of my favorite grassroots groups and one of the only focusing on Texas jails.

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