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Dallas County Jail again fails annual state inspection

Aerial photo of the Dallas County Jail
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The Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspected the Dallas County Jail last month.

The state agency that inspects county jails in Texas found the Dallas County lockup “fails to comply with minimum standards.”

It’s the second straight year the jail failed its annual state inspection. Last year, the jail was out of compliance for about three months.

Inspectors from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards visited Dallas County from February 14 to 18 this year.

Here are some of the inspection’s findings:

  • Observations of suicidal inmates in the intake holdover housing unit “were being incorrectly documented,” something inspectors found after comparing written observation logs with recorded video footage. 
  • About 40 inoperable housing unit doors, which inspectors found were part of an ongoing problem. "While on-site, inspectors attempted to verify door repairs and witnessed inmates manipulating a cell door with contraband causing the door to become inoperable,” the report said.
  • A consistent “burning aroma at the North Tower facility,” which staff told them was “associated with the drug K2 and the burning/smoking of coffee grounds.” The report says staff said it had been an issue “for several months.” K2 is synthetic marijuana, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency
  • Laundry staff in the West Tower were “not exchanging clothing and washable items such as sheets, towels, and mattress covers for inmates who are considered to be under crisis care,” but instead leaving it for officers on the floor to do the exchange.   
  • Generators in the South Tower were not properly tested in March and April of 2021. The inspection says minimum standards require weekly and monthly load tests on generators. 

For most of the various violations, the jail must develop plans to return to compliance and share them with state inspectors, and/or send the state documentation showing the jail is adhering to minimum standards.

Some of that oversight lasts for periods of one, two, or three months. But with suicidal inmates held in the intake holdover unit, the jail must send the state weekly proof that observations comply with standards “until further notice.”

Regarding the burning of K2, inspectors didn’t specify any follow-up but said “the jail must find ways to address this issue” because people living and working in the jail “have to constantly inhale these fumes.”

The Dallas County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jail, did not respond to an interview request sent Thursday afternoon.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said the failed inspection was “disappointing, obviously. We’ve got to get in compliance.”

Jenkins said the COVID-19 pandemic, and the lack of jury trials, has changed the percentage of inmates in the jail who require maximum security - and that group as a whole is more difficult to manage.

“My hope is that that is going to improve as we’re getting more juries in jury boxes and we’re having more trials,” Jenkins said.

Multiple corrections officers told the Dallas Observer recently that low staffing levels hampers their ability to monitor inmates according to state standards.

In 2020, inmates at the jail sued over its COVID-19 response. A federal judge placed a hold on that lawsuit in July 2021 as she considered the jail’s motion to dismiss the case.

Got a tip? Email Bret Jaspers at bjaspers@kera.org. You can follow Bret on Twitter @bretjaspers.

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