The Harris County Jail must further reduce its inmate population or rapidly expand the number of deputies it has working in the jail according to a new order from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

The Harris County Jail has been out of state compliance since 2022. This latest decision came down during the most recent meeting of the TCJS where Harris County presented a progress report on some of its compliance issues. The presentation showed that it has continued to fail to meet the minimum staffing standard of one detention officer for every 48 inmates and did not meet the required times for their observational rounds consistently. While the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said they are closer to meeting the target, they are still understaffed and find it hard to meet the mark 100 percent of the time. 

HCSO said recent pay raises approved by the Harris County Commissioners Court have helped them achieve a 31 percent higher retention rate in the last six months than in the previous six months. They also hired 108 detention officers in the last 90 days, but are still 192 jailers short. Currently, they have 1,713 officers “in some capacity” working in the jail.

“They have vacated all of the variance months that have previously been granted, and the next step in order to ensure they’re meeting that 1 to 48 all the time would be for them to house out additional inmates,” the Commission said. “Staff requests that the remedial order be amended to basically limit the population of the available staff.” 

The Commission will put together different options to present to the county to help them meet the standard.

Harris County is already paying $50 million to outsource inmates to other facilities, including in Mississippi and Louisiana, so it’s uncertain how many more will need to be outsourced and at what cost to meet the standards set forth by the state.

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.