HARRIS COUNTY, Texas – An attorney for the Harris County Deputies Organization, who’s familiar with Eric Morales’ case, said in custody jail deaths have nothing to do with detention officers’ training. Instead, Robin Foster said they’re the result of a systemic problem that runs much deeper.
“We do not have the resources. We do not have the staff,” Foster said.
Detention officers hired by Harris County to work in the jail undergo five weeks of extensive training, regulated by the state, with their first week focusing on de-escalation tactics.
“It all starts with being understaffed and underfunded,” Foster said.
She added that the county has failed to invest in resources that are so desperately needed to make conditions at the Harris County jail better for employees and inmates.
“Whenever we see something like the deaths in the jail skyrocketing, the ones that are going to be punished for it are the ones that have the least to do with it, which are the detention officers,” Foster said.
Foster said the jail’s population is the highest it’s been in a decade, and even though inmates are being sent to other facilities in West Texas and Louisiana, the county jail is still at capacity.
“We can’t keep skimping on it because it’s an essential function,” Foster said.
According to the Texas Justice Initiative, Harris County had 23 in-custody jail deaths last year, more than counties like Bexar, which had 14, Dallas at 12, Tarrant at 11 and Travis at five.
Of the majority of the inmates who died, 48% were Black.
As for the manner of death, the highest, 43%, were categorized as “other,” followed by natural causes/illness. Four percent of the deaths were homicides.
“What can we do to make the conditions in the jail better so that these deaths that could be prevented are prevented,” Foster said.