Don't Like the Conditions in Jail?
What Happens in Jail...
Take a tour: In reading Randall Patterson's September 8 article "Jail Hell," one would think he's writing about a Soviet-era gulag. The unsanitary conditions and brutal treatment of inmates he describes at the Harris County Jail would be outrageous if they existed. They do not.
By Patterson's own admission, the allegations in his article were based on the selective comments — from a really small sample — of newly released inmates. Had Patterson bothered to contact the Sheriff's Office for his story, we would have fully investigated these claims of mistreatment. He did not contact us.
And had Patterson requested to tour the jail facilities himself, he might have been surprised (or perhaps disappointed) to see that the jail is run in a very civilized and professional manner. The floors are clean, the meals are hot and the staff is professional. Jail isn't meant to be paradise, but it certainly isn't the "hell" described in Patterson's article.
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If the inmates allege such beastly and savage treatment, why didn't they file a formal grievance or complaint so that we can investigate their allegations? If the conditions are so inhumane and deplorable, why did the Harris County Jail recently pass a surprise state inspection just last month? Did the inspectors miss the alleged feces on the floor or did they just walk over it? Did they also fail to see so-called fungus- and mold-covered cells, mildewed showers and the bloody faces of the beaten inmates, or did they just look the other way? One has to wonder. Why would Adan Munoz Jr., Executive Director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, in his letter of compliance to Sheriff Adrian Garcia write, "This [certificate] attests, signifies and demonstrates your department's dedication and professionalism in providing a safe, secure and sanitary facility"?
It's no secret there are more inmates in the Harris County Jail than it was built to hold. That is why the county has entered into agreements with neighboring county jails to temporarily house some of our inmates.
The bottom line is the Harris County Jail is safe, sanitary and in compliance with the strictest of standards. And by the way, Mr. Patterson, your invitation to see the jail for yourself still stands.
Media Relations Manager
Harris County Sheriff's Office
Editor's note: The story "Jail Hell" was a response to Sheriff Garcia's previously articulated position about conditions inside the jail. Writer Randall Patterson quoted from the arguments that the Sheriff's Office made in its rejoinder to the Department of Justice findings.
Online readers weigh in:
Do something: Yes, if you don't like jail, don't do something that will land you there. I agree. However, something needs to be done about the conditions of Harris County Jail and the treatment of the prisoners currently housed there. We are in America, and we are all innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. And even if found guilty in a court of law, we are entitled to be treated with respect and dignity, plain and simple. The prisoner is someone's mother, father, daughter, son. Is this how we continue to allow our great country to treat our own? Come on. We have standards of how we must treat prisoners of war. Where are the same standards for our own? Sheriff Garcia, I voted for you as many others did. Please, open your eyes and do something. Not every prisoner is lying!
I have a modest proposal: Increase facilities, demand better standards for guards, improve psychiatric evaluations and generally clean up the jail for all the incoming suspects except the scum who say this when they bounce checks: "I'd do it again."
It's partly because of thieves like her that groceries cost as much as they do.
Monster makers: The Truth Squad from the Houston Press will eventually get around to learning our jails are little factories that create monsters who really are frightening to all of us.
Keep after the Harris County Jail leadership, and we will enter the 21st century eventually. Kicking and screaming, but we'll get there. Jail time is given as punishment and not for punishment.
Not the American way: I may be too late, but before any morons get on here and exhibit their stupidity by saying something like, "Jail is meant to be bad" or "If you don't like it, don't do anything to get there," I'd like to remind everyone that punishments are supposed to fit the crimes.
Forget the fact that we are all supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. Forget respect or human dignity. If you are truly conservative and you don't like big government, or you believe that the government can only screw things up, remember: These guards who are beating the crap out of people are agents of the government.
Agents of the government are abusing their authority and inflicting physical punishments on people whose biggest sin has been writing a hot check or not paying their traffic tickets. Everything these people in this story have said is true. I know from experience.
If you think it is okay to take a boot to the ribs because you ran a red light, okay, fine. We'll put you down as one of those people who want to live in a country where they chop people's hands off for shoplifting or stone women for adultery. But don't ever say that you believe in truth, justice or the American way. Because if you think it is acceptable to treat people like this, you do not believe in justice.
Protect the innocent: Any one of us could end up in there. My girlfriend was a victim of identity theft, perpetrated by her sister. Her sister was pulled over twice without ID, and since she knew my girlfriend's Social Security number, was able to convince the police she was my girlfriend. She was written tickets both times for speeding and no insurance and, of course, never showed up for court. My girlfriend found out there was a warrant for her arrest, and after 18 months and more than $6,000 in legal fees, was able to clear her name. Fortunately, she was never pulled over for any infractions, or this jail is where she would have ended up. "Innocent until proven guilty" should be more than a concept, it should be a practice. Innocent people are the vast minority of those confined in this hellhole, but they do end up there.
Hellhole: I know about Harris County Jail. I was there twice in the late '80s and early '90s, and witnessed guards throwing inmates down stairwells. I saw the deputies rush around gleefully like swarming sharks to join beat-downs on inmates in closed rooms. They would grab their rubber gloves and run to join the fray. You could hear anguished screams and the laughing and chiding of the guards.
Shame on the fools who are so quick to condemn those who find themselves in this hellhole, suggesting they deserve it, etc. It shows your ignorance and lack of humanity. Many of those in jail suffer from addiction, alcoholism and mental illness. There are a lot of very good, decent people who, because of various factors, have struggled in life and certainly do not deserve the treatment they receive from the Harris County Jail Goon Squad.
I grew up in Houston, and I remember very well the vicious and brutal law enforcement practices of HPD and the Sheriff's Department. There were a lot of dead perps floating around in Bayou City in those days. I imagine there still are some.
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