The Harris County Jail in Houston, TX is the third largest joint in the country and one of the largest in the world. Only the Rikers Island (which is actually a complex of 10 different jails) and the LA County Jail (largest on the planet) are larger. 25% of the $1.5 billion Harris County budget is law enforcement, with more than $750,000 a day spent on detainees. A shortage of guards means the jail shells out $35 million a year on overtime; some guards are topping out at $100,000 a year in total pay.
An average of 10,000 people are held there per day, not counting another 1,100 bused 6 hours to and from Northern Louisiana each day. Some of them- up to 1,700 at some points- have to sleep on the floor because parts of it are unused due to severe staff shortages. When state inspectors come, the floor-sleepers are hidden in underground tunnels until the inspectors leave. It has operated without Texas Jail Standard Commission certification since 2004, in violation of state law.
My granson is in Harris County Jail. His cell has 48 beds but has 60 inmates. During the state inspections inmates sleeping on the floor are moved to the the jail tunnel system which temporarily “solves” the overcrowding situation. After the inspectors leave, the inmates in the tunnel system are returned to the floors. The county currently decides when the inspection takes place. The state should make this decision and should be able to access any facility at anytime.
The jail also operates in violation of federal law- the Department of Justice ruled that the poor access to health care in life-threatening situations, unnecessary use of physical force, denial of mental health care, and inattention to suicide prevention violates the U.S. Constitution.
Justice Department spokesman Alejandro Mayer posted:
The [DOJ] found that the jail fails to provide detainees with adequate: (1) medical care; (2) mental health care; (3) protection from serious physical harm; and (4) protection from life-safety hazards
In Harris County there is an “assembly line” set up to more quickly and efficiently certify children as adults so that they can go to adult jails & prisons. With its 162 juvenile-to-adult certifications in 2007-08, Harris County alone certified 19 more juveniles as adults than in the state’s nine other leading counties which altogether certified just 143 juveniles as adults. In Texas the juvenile system is known as the “School-to-Prison Pipeline.”
Houston attorney Christene Wood represents one teenager who has mounted a legal challenge, along with Texas Appleseed, of the county’s certification process. She told the Chronicle that the judge who sent her client into the adult system laughed, surfed the Internet, and never once made eye contact with the boy before certifying him as an adult. “The certification process [in Harris County] is an absolute joke,” the attorney told the newspaper.
In its “medical tank,” inmates have been left in their own blood and feces for days on end (inculding pregnant women), and the tank has a tendencey to flood.
Sarah and other women in the room kept telling the guards to take this pregnant woman first. The guards only replied with things along the lines of “Shut the fuck up, the bitch shouldn’t have gotten herself in here to begin with. This is jail, not a country club.”
“Well, I guess my travel agent sure messed up, didn’t she?” Sarah laughed, trying for some dark humor. After spending more time in Big Baker and learning the ropes, Sarah saw that inmates tried to avoid going to Medical and she herself vowed to never report injuries or sicknesses again.
Sarah saw Officer Otto grab the woman by the back of her neck again and slam her face into the floor. By this point, Sarah had ducked into a utility closet because “You don’t really want an officer to know you’ve seen them do something like this.” Sarah heard the woman scream at him, “You fucker, I’m pregnant.” When the woman stood up, Sarah saw that her face was all bloody and busted and her braces were hanging out of her mouth. Sarah also saw that the woman was pregnant and showing.
Sarah said the guards’ nickname for her was “the Yuppie,” and they thought it was funny to send her into J-POD where the most violent offenders were housed.