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Managing Jails

Texas Sheriffs wear many hats, including as Chief Operating Officer of the county jail system.

Newly elected Sheriffs throughout Texas were given a primer on how to effectively and efficiently operate county jails by the Correctional Management Institute of Texas (CMIT).

“It is the biggest liability issue that exists in the county,” said Brent Phillips, who has worn many hats, including as Sheriff of Trinity County, jail administrator of Polk County, and a board member for the Texas Jail Association, an organization for correctional officers that work in local jails. “It produces no funding, and it is the biggest drain there is in the system.”

About 20 Sheriffs attended the four-day professional development and training, which covered the wide array of issues that comes with operating a county jail. In addition to providing a general overview of jail operations and standards, there were special sessions on leadership, legal issues, con games, in-custody death issues, population control, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), human resources issues, staff training, budgets and contracts. Among the Sheriffs who presented and support the programs were Chris Kirk, Kelly Rowe, Greg Hamilton, and Clint McRae.

There are 254 counties in Texas and all but 19 of them have county jail facilities, handling more than 63,500 inmates as of March 2013. A total of 16 counties have privatized their jails, but the County Sheriff still maintains oversight of the facilities. Among those who participated in the training were Sheriffs from Bandera, Chambers, Crosby, Dickens, Edwards, Franklin, Galveston, Garza, Hill, Hockley, Hutchinson, Jack, Kendall, Lamar, Marion, Mills, Nacogdoches, Shelby, Tom Green, and Van Zandt counties.

“It is a tremendous honor for the Correctional Management Institute of Texas to work collaboratively with the Sheriffs Association of Texas, the Texas Jail Association, and the Texas Association of Counties to deliver this critical program focusing on enhancing public safety within our communities across Texas,” said Doug Dretke, Executive Director of the CMIT. “This training was developed in a response to a number of requests from Sheriffs across Texas recognizing the need for a program specific to their significant responsibility in operating their county jails.”

Under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, the County Sheriff is the keeper of the county jail and is responsible for protecting people committed to custody. Each jail is required to meet minimum standards, rules and procedures, which are monitored by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. Among the issues are classification, supervision, licensing, life safety training, searches for contraband, food services, work assignments, screening for mental disabilities, suicide prevention, disciplinary procedures and grievances, and services and activities, to name a few.

The newly elected Sheriffs also were provided an overview of the latest legal decisions involving county jails, their roles and responsibilities under the PREA Act and common con games that inmates use on jail employees. They also discussed the complex issues that arise when there is an inmate death in custody and the procedures that should be followed.

With many jails facing overcrowding, sheriffs also were given ways they could control the population by working within the criminal justice system. It is imperative to get others in the system involved in the process, such as representatives from Commissioner’s Courts, prosecutor’s offices, the judiciary, probation and others, which may include law enforcement agencies or parole offices to effectively manage the issue.

Training and human resource issues are also critical to the success of jail operations and can help limit liability issues. Training for jailers is available through the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the Texas Jail Association, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education, and CMIT. It is also recommended that Sheriffs set up their own Jail Training Officer programs to provide “field” training in the county’s correctional setting for new employees.

New Sheriffs also will face fiscal issues in operating the jail and contracts for services, so the session provided tips on how to budget for the facility, as well as how to convey important information to Commissioners Court when trying to gain funding.

Finally, while many Sheriffs have a law enforcement background, they were exposed to the skills needed to be an effective leader in a correctional setting. One of those opportunities is the Texas Jail Association, which provides ongoing trainings and conferences, as well as networking opportunities. Each of the 68 newly elected sheriffs was granted a complimentary one year membership to the Association.

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