HOUSTON – Staffing issues, inmates spending more time in holding cells, staff not following medical orders, or seeing inmate patients in a timely matter continue to plague the Harris County Jail, according to a new state inspection report obtained by KPRC 2 Investigates.
The Texas Commission on Jail Standards notified Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and Judge Lina Hildalgo via a letter on March 8 that “the jail in your county fails to comply with minimum standards” and needed corrective actions immediately.
During a review in February, commission investigators found five areas in the jail needed immediate corrections.
KPRC 2 Investigates requested comments from the offices of Judge Lina Hidalgo, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, and the Harris Health System. This story will be updated as responses become available.
Health Instructions and Services
The notice comes just months after the commission found the jail was not in non-compliance at the end of 2022. At the time, TCJS found the jail did not order or provide medication to inmate Matthew Shelton who was diabetic.
The 28-year-old was checked into jail on March 22, 2022, but died five days later of diabetic ketoacidosis.
Since then, inspectors say during another inspection that it “was determined to be a continuing issue.”
Investigators found inmates did not see medical staff within 48 hours of making a request, a standard required by the facility operation plan.
In one case, an inspector found one inmate who needed dental work completed and was not seen for 38 days.
In another case, an inmate waited roughly a month to see medical professionals for a bullet lodged in his neck. Reports indicate the inmate was a “no show” for his first appointment, but there was no notation on why he missed it.
The report details that jail staff and Harris Health, the on-staff medical provider, were to provide a plan of action within 30 days “to ensure these issues do not occur in the future.”
While inspecting the Harris County Jail following Shelton’s death, investigators found several inmates in holding cells for up to 70 hours.
TCJS Executive Director Brandon S. Wood stated the jail required inmates to be in holding cells for up to 48 hours before being sent to their housing assignments.
Now jail officials must submit a plan of action before April 7 “detailing how inmates will be processed, classified, and housed within 48 hours to the lead inspector.”
Because of the inaction from Harris County, TCJS will make unannounced visits to “ensure the plan is being adhered to.”
According to the state, all inmates must get face-to-face interaction with corrections officers within 60 minutes.
The timeline gets pushed up to 30 minutes for inmates considered mentally ill or potentially suicidal.
In some cases, state investigators found corrections officers would take more than two hours to complete the task.
While looking at observation times, TCJS found the jail did not have enough correction officers on at least two floors to supervise roughly 1,340 inmates.
Now, the jail will need to submit a staffing plan to address the issue and send staffing rosters at various facilities to TCJS inspectors.
Harris County Sheriff’s Office released the following statement ahead of Commissioners Court Tuesday.
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office is reviewing the final Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspection report. We continue to work diligently to address any noted areas of deficiency. Tomorrow, Sheriff Gonzalez will be presenting an update to the Commissioners Court regarding some elements of the corrective action plan and seeking additional funds/resources to accelerate our improvement efforts. The recent comprehensive inspection also recognized some significant improvements.