State Sen. calls Harris County Jail problems 'urgent'

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas - State Sen. John Whitmire penned a sharply worded letter regarding his concerns about conditions at the embattled Harris County jail.

The letter was addressed to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

Whitmire characterized problems at the as "urgent,” citing five inmate suicides since 2017, unsanitary conditions and 400 inmates being housed at for-profit facilities outside of Harris County.

"It is apparent that mismanagement by the current jail administration continues to be an epidemic that jeopardizes the safety and well-being of our fellow citizens who find themselves housed in the Harris County Jail,” Whitmire’s letter read.

Read Whitmire's letter below:

 

 

 

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez responded to Whitmire by tweeting out a lengthy response. Gonzalez wrote that the suicide rate at the jail is below the national average on inmate suicides and his team is already addressing the problems found during inspections by the Jail Standards Commission. Gonzalez further wrote the Harris County jail faced unique challenges stemming from Hurricane Harvey damage and a large mental health inmate population.

Read Gonzalez's response below:

 

 

 

"Our team stands ready to work with you to address the challenges that come with operating the largest county jail in Texas," Gonzalez wrote.

In his letter, Whitmire wrote the problems at the jail have him considering drafting legislation that would allow the state to intervene at troubled jails. Hidalgo said the problems at the jail are part-and-parcel of imbalanced criminal justice system that locks-up too many people who simply can’t afford bail for low offenses.

"It's going to take time. It's not easy. It's been that way for a very long time and that's what led to all of these crises. So they are systemic issues and we are working to tackle them," Hidalgo said.

Commissioner Steve Radack called Whitmire's letter "brutal" and "to the point." He said he will again bring up the idea of creating a jail administrator position to assume responsibility of jail operations. Radack said that idea, however, would require Gonzalez's and other commissioners’ cooperation.

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