Harris County Answers Federal Criticism

Harris County has responded to findings by the Justice Department that conditions at the county jail were unconstitutional. The 300-page response was an answer to a 25-page report by the department's Civil Rights Division following an investigation of the jail last year. Pat Hernandez has the story.

After an investigation last year, the Justice Department cited overcrowding, medical conditions and an alarming number of deaths in the county lockup.  County Attorney Vince Ryan answered with a 300-page report. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and Commissioners had just received the phone book size response when Emmett was asked to comment.

"Based on what I understand and what has been said, the jails were never unconstitutional and they think they've made a good case for that. I assume that they're addressing all the points of the Justice Department and we'll look at it in some detail, but at the end of the day, that's the county attorney's job to defend the county. It's not my job or even the Commissioner's Court."

Ryan says the report was largely based on comments from inmates and incomplete data. He adds Harris County responded by giving the jail millions in stimulus funds to improve conditions. Judge Emmett says he's impressed with Sheriff Adrian Garcia's efforts as well.

"Whoever the sheriff is — is in the business of running the jail. And Sheriff Garcia has addressed some of the problems that were raised and the county attorney's advising him and so, I think it'll be all be under control soon."

After failing four of its last seven state inspections, the Harris County Jail passed a surprise check in July. Deficiencies found in one inspection had been corrected: the lockup houses some 11-thousand people.

PH, KUHF-Houston Public Radio News. 

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Pat Hernandez

Reporter

Pat Hernandez is a general assignments reporter who joined the KUHF news staff in February of 2008...