Harris County Jail Isn't Checking On Inmates Often Enough, State Inspection Finds

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said his office will fix every issue with the county jail identified by state investigators.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said his office will fix every issue with the county jail identified by state investigators. Screenshot
During last week’s annual, random inspection of the Harris County Jail by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the local detention facility got passing marks in 22 of the 23 areas of review. However, the county jail failed on one very important criteria: the requirement for jail staff to perform regular visual checks on inmates.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office announced Friday that it flunked out on its inmate check-up test. According to the Texas Administrative Code, jails are required to have “an established procedure for documented, face-to-face observation of all inmates by jailers no less than once every 60 minutes. Observation shall be performed at least every 30 minutes in areas where inmates known to be assaultive, potentially suicidal, mentally ill, or who have demonstrated bizarre behavior are confined.”

On most tests, getting a 22 out of 23 would be pretty impressive, but the visual check standard that the Harris County Jail failed to meet isn’t just some unimportant technicality. It’s especially concerning that the jail wasn’t doing due diligence in checking on inmates as frequently as the state requires given last year’s high-profile suicide of noted zillionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself in a New York jail cell after being left alone for hours in an under-staffed facility.

“We are committed to meeting every single standard for jail compliance and we will work even harder to fix each issue identified by the inspectors,” Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said in a statement. HCSO had 30 days as of Friday to file a corrective action plan with the state jail commission.

The jail inspection team did give the Harris County Jail high marks on its “very clean and organized” kitchen operation, noted that the jail’s laundry operations are “above standard,” and praised jail staff for running “a very clean facility.” State inspectors also reported that inmates they spoke to generally gave positive feedback about their treatment behind bars.

The sheriff’s office did not disclose how frequently — or infrequently — its jail staff checks on inmates, so it’s unclear just how badly they’re missing the mark on that front. HCSO’s public information officer did not respond to a request from the Houston Press for an interview on the matter, and instead just referred us back to the department’s press release announcing the inspection results.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Schaefer Edwards is a staff writer at the Houston Press who covers local and regional news. A lifelong Texan and adopted Houstonian, he loves NBA basketball and devouring Tex-Mex while his cat watches in envy.
Contact: Schaefer Edwards