The problems are so severe that the city may not be able to tap into federal funds to screen inmates for immigration status, as that program would require the city to hold those inmates until Immigration and Customs Enforcement decided to pick them up.
City jails have been under court-ordered inspections since a lawsuit over the jails' conditions in 1989. Up through June 2008, the inspections were carried out by criminal justice consultant Gordon Kamka (now deceased). His last report (in June 2008) was just two pages long and noted that some phones weren't working and some inmates had been forced to choose between having a mattress or having a blanket.
Either Mr. Kamka wasn't looking, didn't care or covered up the problems, because in May 2009, the new inspector, David Bogard, found, shall we say, a shitload of problems.
Here are the highlights:
Police officials said they are confident that Mr. Bogard's most recent inspection (this month) will show that improvements have been made. The city thinks building a new jail/intake facility and turning its operation over to Harris County would be a good idea. The voters disagreed last year in rejecting the proposal in a referendum.
Here's an idea for the powers-that-be in Houston -- how about issuing more personal bonds on minor cases? It's absurd to fill the jails with people charged with driving on suspended licenses, possession of small amounts of marijuana or criminal trespass. Think fishing -- catch and release.