Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo expresses concerns over in-custody deaths

HOUSTON – The current count of in-custody deaths in the Harris County Jail stands at 11. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo spoke out about this statistic during a news conference on Tuesday.

The judge said it’s something she too is concerned about and waiting to see the Texas Rangers’ report on the latest death.

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The judge said she wants to take a closer look at the jail population and said while the courts are attacking the backlog, it’s barely addressing the packed jail.

“I certainly don’t think that anybody should have a death sentence just because they are in the jail awaiting trial,” Hidalgo said.

The Texas Jail Project reported that 49-year-old Oscar Villazana’s death is the 11th in-custody death so far this year in Harris County.

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“Let me say my heart goes out to the family of the gentleman that died. It’s not acceptable by any means. What have we done? And what will we continue to do? We’ve made investments in additional staffing and better pay for detention officers. Additional career opportunities so we can encourage folks to become detention officers,” Hidalgo said.

Krish Gundu is the co-founder and executive director of the Texas Jail project. She said, unfortunately, she’s not surprised to learn of another death and now asking the commissioners’ court to do more.

“Twenty-eight people dead in 2022. Eleven this year. It’s not an inevitability, it’s not an accident, it’s not a coincidence. It is violence, at this point. It is willful and it is violence, and it is unacceptable,” Gundu said. “We’re only in July and we already have 11 deaths and I just want to know what the plan is from the county commissioners’ court.”

“What steps have you taken so far beyond the pay grade and hiring more? Those are the big ones some additional funding for body cameras for the detention officers. Additional cameras at the jail so there could be better visibility of what’s happening,” Hidalgo said.

The Texas Rangers are investigating the latest jail death.

KPRC 2 reporter Rilwan Balogun asked Harris County Sheriff’s Office for comment but did not hear back.


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