SENATE COMMITTEE DEBATES CITY JAIL STANDARDS AND TRAINING
On September 7, the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice held a hearing on the following charge:
Study and make recommendations related to municipal jails and other detention facilities that operate without state agency oversight. Identify the number of such facilities and the population detained, as well as best practices for municipal jails. Make recommendations to improve services and consider options for oversight of facilities by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
Brandon Wood, assistant director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (a state agency) testified that the commission has oversight of county jails, but not of city jails. The chair of the Senate committee was surprised by this dichotomy and assumed that TML was behind it. [Please click here to hear Mr. Wood describe the city exemption and the chair’s reaction.] Mr. Wood’s agency recommended that city facilities limit their detentions to 72 hours, require staff certification, adopt minimum jail standards, and allow outside audits.
Donna Klaeger, county judge of Burnet County, testified that she supports mandatory city jail standards. [Please click here to hear her recommendation.] Ms. Klaeger did not explain to the committee why a county official is concerned about city jail operations.
Tim Braaten, executive director of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education (TCLEOSE), testified that his agency licenses county jail personnel, but not city personnel. Mr. Braaten testified that TCLEOSE receives “little or no” complaints relating to city jails.
David Barber, police chief in the City of Hedwig Village, testified on behalf of the Texas Police Chiefs Association and on behalf of TML. He explained the necessity of city jails and argued against state standards for city jails because of the different nature of city jails versus county jails. Namely, city jails detain persons temporarily while county jails hold people for the long term. Meeting county jail standards would involve “staggering” expense in construction and maintenance. A jail official from Houston, Patrick Dougherty, made similar distinctions between city and county jails.
The Municipal Jail Association of Texas is a non-profit membership organization that includes as members many city jail employees. A board member of that association, who is also a city employee of a North Texas city, testified in favor of standardized and certified training of city jail employees. [Please click here to listen to her testimony.]
The TML Legislative Policy Committee on General Government recently recommended that TML oppose legislation that would “mandate jail standards for city jails or mandate any form of certification for city detention officers.” Even if the League ultimately adopts that position, arguing against such standards is made difficult when some city employees argue in favor of statewide training standards.