County Doesn't Know Much About Justice Department Jail Probe

The man in charge of the Harris County Jail says he's still in the dark about a Department of Justice investigation that could take place there. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

In a letter to Harris County Attorney Mike Stafford on Friday, the DOJ informed the County of the pending investigation, but so far hasn't said anything else. Harris County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Mike Smith runs the jail that booked 137,000 inmates last year. 

"We're concerned, you know, them coming in putting notice out like that. Same token, we're not apprehensive. We think we run a good jail. We passed a jail inspection last year. They're very rigorous in their inspections, so we're ready."   

Smith says he hasn't hear anything directly from the Department of Justice. He says the DOJ has done around 400 jail investigations, including a recent one in Dallas.

"We have talked to some of the other agencies that have been inspected. One such agency they took over a year to reach their first conclusions. Then they came up with a list of particulars and my understanding is they met them halfway on it and agreed to do it. So we're anxious to see what they present."

Houston attorney Randall Kallinen is the president of the American Rights Association. He also represents three former inmates who are suing the county for excessive force and poor medical care.

"It is about time that the federal government stepped in and takes a close look at the Harris County Jail. The Harris County Jail is the largest jail in Texas. It's capacity is over 10,000 and in one year alone, more than 120,000 people pass through the Harris County Jail."

Kallinen says the Department of Justice wouldn't investigate the Harris County Jail unless it had good reason to. 

"These investigations are complaint-driven. The United States has tens of thousands of jails. Texas itself has several hundred jails. When the Department of Justice sends that letter that was sent on Friday, why they have already received a number of credible complaints." 

The Harris County Sheriff's Department says it will cooperate fully with any investigation. In the letter last week, the DOJ said it simply wants to ensure the county complies with federal law.

Bio photo of Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...