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Dallas Jails Fail Inspection Again, As Expected

Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, Tx Commission on Jail Standards Exec. Director Adan Munoz, Jr., Tx Commission on Jail Standards Assistant Dir., Shannon J. Herklotz

By Bill Zeeble, KERA News

Dallas, TX – Dallas County jails have once again failed inspection. But despite the poor grade, the same inspectors say this jail is now among the best anywhere. KERA's Bill Zeeble explains how another failing mark can sound so rosy.

Dallas County Jails have now failed the state's inspection every year since 2003. This time, inspectors say there's just one main reason. Executive Director of Texas Jail Standards, Adan Munoz, Jr., says everyone knows the new smoke and fume alarm system still being installed is the obstacle. It's designed to detect smoke within a minute and then staff has 15 minutes to evacuate inmates.

Adan Munoz, Jr, Director, Texas Commission on Jail Standards: As long as that smoke evacuation system is not totally fixed, that's why you see it's a work in progress and it's almost there. We're within three to four months of being complete.

Munoz says other than final installation on a floor with no inmates, he's not really worried about the jail. In fact, he says so much else has been fixed.

Munoz: I've seen more improvement, more progress done than ever before. Progress is being made to the Dallas county jail to get it back into compliance. Don't ever think that it's not. The condition of this jail at this point being the best it's ever been is because of the staff that works inside that jail.

Munoz's assistant, Shannon Herklotz, says a long list of problems has now been solved or nearly so. They include some unlicensed jail workers.

Herklotz: That issue I think has probably already been rectified.

When inmates refuse medication, it hasn't always been properly tracked. Herklotz says that system too is being fixed.

Herklotz: So once that plan gets changed, that issue will correct itself as well.

There are other issues, including sanitation, staffing, discipline, and inmate grievances. Herklotz is pleased with all of them, beginning with sanitation.

Herklotz: I'll tell you, it's as good as we've ever seen it. Period.

Herklotz was so praiseworthy, he said he can't wait until June's inspection.

Herklotz: If I have to drive down on my own dime, I would do it, to make sure ya'll get in compliance.

Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price has taken a lead in fixing jail problems. He called this a proud moment. He said it's taken years, and $178 million, to bring the outdated jail this close to full compliance.

Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price: 19 years worth of benign neglect. We're having to, you know pay me now or pay me later? We're paying later.

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, whose department runs the jail, praised teamwork for the progress.

Dallas County Sheriff Valdez: We are so huge that everything we do affects three or four agencies. If we change our booking procedure to make it better, 26 agencies have to make that change. So the hardest thing was trying to get everybody on board to see that it takes all of us to make a difference.

Valdez said improvements have been so notable that other big cities, including Houston, Miami, and Chicago, have visited Dallas to learn some lessons. She and Price echoed the inspector's optimism that the jail should pass the next inspection. If it does, it could end the decade on a positive note, after spending most of it with failing grades.

Email Bill Zeeble