Following disciplinary actions from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, Harris County Commissioners Court approved $122 million in upgrades to the County Jail hoping to address some long-standing concerns over the facility. 

The funding is focused on 12 projects to fix various issues, including plumbing, electricity, and security—all recommendations from the Jail and Community Safety Infrastructure Governance Advisory Committee. The committee said that existing infrastructure could lead to “system failures at existing facilities” if they don’t begin the upgrades. 

The JGAC reviewed these items and agrees with the need to move forward as soon as reasonably possible to begin this work… Most of these items are deferred maintenance items that have been unaddressed for several years. Regardless of any future planned new facilities, it is imperative that these items are addressed.

The Commissioners will engage with design consultants as they consider redesigning and possibly building a new county jail facility. County officials on the committee will begin looking at facilities over the summer and then contract with a design consultant towards the end of the year. 

Over 50 inmates have died in the custody of the Harris County jail in recent years, an issue often attributed to understaffing or poor training.

Last month, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards said as much when they ordered the county to immediately reduce the number of inmates or increase the number of guards to comply with the state’s inmate-to-guard ratio.

Harris County has been sending inmates out of state and approved an $11 million contract in November to partner with a private facility in Mississippi to house some of them. However, it has still struggled to bring the inmate population down enough to comply with state standards. 

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.

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