Houston Lawmaker Criticizes Jail Conditions

Houston State Senator John Whitmire is directing harsh criticism at the way things are run at the Harris County jail.

In a letter to a Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Whitmire referred to unsanitary conditions, the suicides of five inmates since 2017 and the housing of 400 inmates at for-profit facilities outside of the county. The Democrat lawmaker went on to say, “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.”

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez blamed the jail's problems on a large number of inmates with mental health problems, as well as lingering damage from Hurricane Harvey. He also defended the record of the facility, where he says the rate of suicides is below the national average. 

In a related story, Harris County is adopting a new bail system after the previous cash bail system was found to be unconstitutional. All misdemeanor suspects in the county will be released on a personal bond instead of having to pay their way out. Officials say most misdemeanor offenders can be let go without endangering the community. Some suspects may be held for up to 48 hours to see a judge, if they violated bond conditions or a protective order, or if they're charged with a second DWI or with domestic violence. The new rule takes effect in 30 days.

Whitmire says he may draft a law allowing state intervention at troubled jails.

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