Harris County Jail kept tens of thousands of ex-inmates’ funds, audit shows

More than $1M was not returned, according to County audit

HOUSTON – The Harris County Jail inmate banking system has serious problems, according to a county audit, which was reviewed by KPRC 2 Investigates.

According to the internal audit, dated April 23, 2023, “the Sheriff’s Office has $1,001,547 in funds that have not been issued to inmates upon their release or transfer. This total balance was composed of 59,104 individual inmate account balances.”

Harris County internal, dated 4/21/23 audit reveals problems with inmate banking system. (KPRC)

“If we had kept someone’s over million dollars that wasn’t ours, you and I would be sitting in that jail,” said Krish Gundu, with the Texas Jail Project.

Response from Harris County Sheriff’s Office:

“When a person is going through the release process at the jail, they are supposed to submit a form requesting that their money be returned. When a person leaves jail without claiming their money, we hold the funds in the Inmate Trust account until the person claims their money, or until the statutorily designated waiting period has expired. After this waiting period has expired, our practice is to turn those unclaimed funds over to the county or the state. When the audit was conducted, there was $1 million- plus in unclaimed funds belonging to more than 59,000 people in the Inmate Trust account.

“This means the average amount due is roughly $17. We estimate that nearly half of those unclaimed funds have now been turned over to either the county or the state to hold until it is claimed by the rightful owner.”

Response from Texas Commission on Jail Standards:

The Harris County Jail is already listed as a non-compliant facility by TCJS.KPRC 2 inquired with the Commission regarding the latest audit.

Brandon Wood, with TCJS Communications, released the following statement:

“We receive and review the audits that are required to be conducted annually that demonstrate compliance with LGC351.0415.

“The audit that was conducted and you provided appears to be an operational audit conducted by Harris County and not required to be submitted to TCJS and addresses areas identified that require corrective action. We will continue to verify that their annual audits required by LGC are conducted and submitted to TCJS.

“As the code cited in the audit (GC501) applies to TDCJ and not county jails, it is not within our purview to use that as a basis to force corrective action and would instead refer Harris County Jail to LGC351 regarding commissary operations. That does not mean the findings listed and recommended action are not valid and would encourage they be adopted.”