Dozens of inmates die in Texas jails each year

Prison jail cell
FILE - Jail cell (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A state regulatory agency is exploring changes as recent cases draw attention to inmate deaths in Texas jails.

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards is reviewing the form currently used to help jailers identify if someone might have mental issues or be suicidal. The commission’s executive director Brandon Wood says the sheet could become shorter and more effective.

“Currently we’re reviewing all of our own policies procedures and administrative rules to ensure that we are trying to address the situation as appropriately as we can,” said Wood.

In 2014, records from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards show 71 people died in custody of county jails or other facilities the regulator oversees. Of those, investigators ruled 20 of the deaths suicides. Wood says county jails have more than a million bookings into the facilities each year in Texas.

“The family members of those who have committed suicide in jails feel so alone and they feel like the general population doesn’t understand what they’ve gone through, losing this person in a jail,” said Diana Claitor executive director of the non-profit advocacy group Texas Jail Project.

Claitor says fewer people should be dying in Texas county jails fro suicide. She believes more oversight and training would help prevent more deaths.

The commission currently has four inspectors who check 242 facilities, according to Wood. He says the commission has to inspect each jail at least once a year. It also does some special inspections.

Wood says the Sheriff’s Association of Texas also wants to look at solutions to reduce the risk of suicide in jails.

“I believe that everything is on the table right now,” said Wood.

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