The Dallas County Jail failed to meet Texas minimum standards for acceptable prison conditions for the second year in a row.
According to a report by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, state inspectors during an annual week-long visit last month found that prison staff violated at least four of the state’s minimum standards.
First on the inspectors’ list of infractions is that officers failed to accurately document the times and frequencies of inmate check-ins on suicide watch. According to the report, the prison’s standing policy requires officers to observe each inmate on suicide watch once every 15 minutes. The officers’ recorded sightings and their actual sightings as recorded by surveillance cameras in the suicide watch wing did not match, inspectors said.
In the same week as last month’s inspection, a man jailed on suicide watch, Deron Tolbert, died after suffering a sudden medical emergency in his single cell. Officers were unaware of Tolbert’s distress until other inmates monitoring the suicide alerted them.
The commission also cited the prison for failing to provide a clean uniform and towel to inmates in mental health “crisis care” at least once a week. Last fall, inmates at the Dallas County Jail spent weeks without clean clothes.
State inspectors also described endemic disrepair in the north tower of the prison; dozens of cell doors throughout the facility were smashed, preventing officers from locking them. Many of these doors were in the same tower housing units, “compromising the safety and security of the facility”, the report said.
This is the second straight year the jail has failed state inspection since Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown took office in 2019. It is also the second straight year the jail has not failed to observe several basic hygiene standards for detainees.
Detectives came to Dallas on February 14, more than three weeks ago. This week began like any other annual inspection, according to jailers: Inspectors walked through each of the prison’s towers, interviewing staff and inmates and reviewing staff records of incidents and rounds. As planned, commission staff met with county commissioners on February 18 to discuss their findings.
Unlike in previous years, however, the commission’s report was not released after the briefing, and neither state nor county officials ever clarified whether the jail passed or failed. Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price told reporters this afternoon that “they’re just saying we’re having technical issues and they’ve given us an expected date to fix those issues.”
On February 23, the commission announced the jail’s failing grade and delivered the inspectors’ report to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and Sheriff Brown. Neither county nor state officials have made a public statement about the inspection failure, and the report has not been made public.
Then, last week, state inspectors returned to the jail, internal sheriff’s office emails and county memos show. The purpose of their multi-day return visit is unknown. Neither county nor commission officials immediately responded to request for comment.
For each of the four standards violated, the commission issued instructions to the sheriff’s office and the county to restore compliance. The sheriff’s office will have to provide the commission with various forms of documentation within 30 days or less showing compliance with state instructions or risk further notification of non-compliance.