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Locke calls for jail administrator

Some strong words from Precinct 1 Commissioner Gene Locke.

Gene Locke

Gene Locke

Harris County Commissioner Gene L. Locke on Tuesday demanded that a certified jail administrator be hired after learning that four Harris County inmates have died after being assaulted by other inmates or suffered blunt force trauma while jailed over the last year.

The latest of the deaths during the tenure of Sheriff Ron Hickman, who took office in May 2015, came on April 5 after Patrick Joseph Brown, a Katy man arrested for allegedly stealing a guitar, was beaten to death in a crowded jail cell. Two inmates have been charged with aggravated assault in his death.

“Any in-custody death is unacceptable, and to hear that four people died while in jail awaiting trial in Harris County is embarrassing and disgraceful,” Locke said in a press release. “The inmates’ families deserve answers, and the people of Harris County are entitled to know that their public servants are safely operating a place of confinement, which is meant to be temporary, and not a death chamber for inmates who have not been given a bond hearing or convicted of the crimes for which they have been accused.”

Hickman responded via an emailed statement that he shares Locke’s concerns about inmate care and said he welcomed “any additional assistance that can be provided to ease and/or identify problems with staffing.”

“Our position continues to be that we will never tolerate any abuse or improper treatment of any individual under our care or custody and protection of life is always our first priority,” Hickman said. “Many times, we are the first point of access to medical care when individuals who are brought to our facility are found to be ill, needing medical attention, or mental health services.”

See here for Commissioner Locke’s full statement. The idea of a separate jail administrator has come up before, with the proposal originally being put forward by Commissioner Steve Radack and Sheriff Hickman saying he was open to the possibility. I have expressed some skepticism about this idea, partly because I was afraid it was a stalking horse for some kind of jail privatization scheme, but also because we’re very light on the details for this. How exactly would this work? To whom is the jail administrator accountable? There are many questions to answer before we could consider moving ahead.

Commissioner Locke, who invited me to have lunch with him this week to discuss what he has been doing and planning to do as Commissioner, told me that his reasoning for this was simple: Sheriffs have a strong preference for putting more deputies into patrol and investigations, and they cut costs relating to the jail to pay for that. A jail administrator, who would only have responsibility – and budget – for the jail would instead be incentivized to improve jail operations rather than simply cut costs. I’m still not on board with the idea, at least not until some of the other questions are answered, but I can see the logic in that. Whatever the case, it is clear that what we are doing at the jail now is not working any better than it was before, and we need to make significant changes to bring an end to the violence and death we see all too often in the jail. To that extent, I’ll keep an open mind about having a jail administrator if there’s a proposal for one that makes sense and addresses these questions.

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One Comment

  1. Locke’s public policy ideas or lack there of leave much to be desired.

    Did he even have any ideas when he ran for mayor??