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Harris County implements new jail protocols to improve inmate safety

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HOUSTON – The Harris County Sheriff's Office announced new jail protocols Tuesday to improve inmate safety after the death of an inmate last month. 

Vincent Dwayne Young, 32, was found hanging from a bed sheet Feb. 13 in his private jail cell in the Health Services section, officials said. 

An investigation concluded the deputy responsible for verifying Young's welfare went beyond the state-maximum time between required face-to-face checks on the condition of inmates.

State law requires a check every 30 minutes. Detention officers are required by HCSO to personally check on inmates housed in single-person cells every 25 minutes. 

The deputy was terminated as a result of the incident. 

"The Harris County Sheriff's Office is committed to ensuring the safety of all residents, including those housed at the county jail," said Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. "Our sincere condolences are extended to Mr. Young's family."

As a result, new initiatives have been implemented to improve accountability and oversight. The new measures include: 

"Watch commanders are now required to conduct weekly, random audits that compare detention officers’ written inmate observational rounds records with video footage to verify accuracy.

"Supervisors must verify that detention officers conducting their rounds are also obtaining firsthand evaluation of the inmates’ attitudes and temperament, as well as observing the physical, mental, and emotional condition of each inmate to detect signs of distress or need for medication, psychological or other special services.

"Supervisors are meeting with detention officers to reiterate the importance of properly conducting inmate welfare rounds.

"For 30 days, Compliance and Inspections staff will make daily site visits to the Health Services row. Thereafter, compliance and inspection will conduct random audits of staff performing their observational rounds.

"The Sheriff’s Office is seeking funding to install additional video surveillance cameras in those health services cells, which typically house inmates requiring close observation.

"The Sheriff’s Office is exploring technology applications that may assist in ensuring observational rounds are conducted in compliance with policy," a spokesperson for the HCSO said. 

Young's death is also being investigated by the Texas Rangers.