The Harris County Jail, located in Houston, has been under investigation by the Department of Justice since May of this year, with a number of allegations being made. I would like to comment on these allegations, and I am an authority on this subject. What makes me an authority? Because I just spent the weekend there. As part of my sentence for DWI, I had to serve three days in the Harris County Jail. I will go through the allegations made by the Department of Justice, and give my input.
1) Brutality by Sheriff Department personnel - Yes, I saw some of that, but prisoners only got beatings if they made threats against guards or other inmates, or otherwise acted violently. With what I saw, I thought that the cops and guards acted with more restraint than they had to, and those who got beatings deserved them - In Spades. If you obeyed orders, did not threaten anybody, and did not try to start fights, there was no problem at all. You could even kid around with the guards. When I got thrown into the first tank, the guard said to me "Welcome to Hell". I said "**** you", and we both laughed. There was nothing out of the ordinary with the cops or the guards. They were just like anybody else, with one exception. They were at the jail to keep the peace, and I thought they did a good job. Without the beatings, there would have been no order at all. Even with the strict discipline, there was still a rape in the tank next to mine, and an inmate beaten to death by another inmate, both on Friday night. It would have been much worse with no order.
My opinion - Allegation not founded.
2) Sleep deprivation and cold - I did not sleep the entire time I was in the Harris County Jail. Those who tried to sleep were also unable to. Every so often a guard would come in and make everybody stand up, during those times where overcrowding was not so bad and a few people were able to sit down. Those who did not stand were physically pulled up by the guards, who gave them an earful. LOL. When we got out of the processing and booking tanks, and made it to the jail proper, the temperature was very cold, as opposed to the stifling heat of the first tanks. This also made sleep impossible.
While sleep deprivation and cold does exist, I believe it is there for a reason. If you are shivering and tired, you are less likely to be causing trouble. Also, I believe it is there to make jail an experience that you will not want to go through again. Yes, it is a pain in the ass, but I am now home, not any worse for wear, although I did sleep 14 hours straight when I arrived home. LOL. Yes, this exists, but it exists for a reason. Jail is not supposed to be a comfortable place, so if you don't want to be uncomfortable, then don't do the crime.
My opinion - Allegation not founded.
3) Lack of medical attention - This is one of the things that bothered me. A man in my tank had an epileptic seizure, and was not treated for about 24 hours. From the time he had the seizure until he was treated, he was completely ignored. On the other hand, once out of the booking tanks, and into the jail proper, the medical attention was not so bad. We were all given chest x-rays, and interviewed by medical personnel. Those with problems were sent to a medical holding area, where they were given treatment, and any prescriptions they needed. However, in the processing tanks, you had better pray you don't have a heart attack. If you do, you might as well be dead.
My opinion - Allegation not founded for the jail proper. Allegation founded for the processing tanks.
4) Overcrowding - In the jail proper, there are federal guidelines that must be followed as to the number of people in a tank or cell block, and the jail personnel followed them religiously. No problem there. However, in the processing tanks, which people remained in for up to 2 days before getting into the jail proper, the problem is horrendous. the tank I was first put into as about 25x40 feet, and I counted 165 prisoners in it. I was there for about 12 hours. The second tank was smaller, but just as packed.
My opinion - Allegation not founded for the jail proper. Allegation founded for the booking and processing tanks.
So, all in all, is the Federal investigation proper? For the jail proper, it is not. It is very well run. However, for the booking and processing tanks that eventually lead to the jail proper, you might as well be in a Turkish prison. If you get seriously sick, you could very well die in there. But the guards and cops themselves were quite restrained, and the only beatings I saw were against those inmates who really deserved it.
One thing that could be corrected is the practice of throwing everybody together, instead of segregating prisoners according to their propensity for violence. You had people with unpaid traffic tickets sharing the same tanks with rapists, shooters, and gangbangers. IMHO, that is one of the main reasons for the rape that happened Friday night in the tank next to mine. The killing happened in a transition area between the processing tanks and the jail proper, but I can't comment on that, since I had not made it to that area for processing yet. I can only speculate that overcrowding contributed to it.
So here is what I think should be done:
1) For the jail proper, chalk it up to inmates who are whining about a lack of comfort, or maybe they want to game the system, or maybe they are just trouble makers. There is absolutely no foundation for the allegations there.
2) For the booking and processing area, which people are kept in up to 2 or 3 days, something definitely needs to be done. This area is quite dangerous, and people are seriously injured or die there frequently. Overcrowding needs to be dealt with immediately, and violent and non-violent prisoners need to be segregated. In addition, medical treatment needs to be made available there.
My only trouble while I was in there was when I was in the first tank, which was called "Hell" by the guards. At one point, when it was a little less crowded, I was able to sit on the floor. I was sitting down, and a gang banger came up to me and yelled "Old School, you had better not stand up". I stood up, and said "Here I am". Turns out that he was joking around, but he was also testing me to see if I was willing to defend myself. He and I got along after that. Other than that, I did not have any problems, I obeyed all commands given to me by the guards, and said "Yes Sir" after each command. I was released a day early, so here I am. I am back.
I hope this report helps clear the air about the investigation.