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Cooperation helps keep East Texas jails in compliance

By Robyn Claridy
Feb. 11, 2012 at 10 p.m.

Texas has more county jails than ever in compliance with state jail standards, a list that includes all the county lockups in East Texas.

Jails in Gregg, Harrison, Rusk, Smith, Upshur, Cass, Camp and Marion counties all were found to be compliant after recent unannounced visits by inspectors, said Adan Munoz, executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

"Right now, we have the lowest number of non-compliant jails that we've ever had," Munoz said Thursday.

The commission sends state inspectors annually to each of the state's 246 county jails to go over facilities and operations with a fine-toothed comb. The aim is ensuring the jails are being run according to state standards and are following the rules to care for inmates.

As of Thursday, eight jails statewide were on the non-compliant list.

The positive report card in East Texas was partly the result of cooperation across the region, officials said

Shannon Herklotz, assistant director of the commission, said coordination between Gregg County and Rusk County jail administrators prevented the Rusk County jail from being found non-compliant because of a misunderstanding about a jail rule.

"Rusk County had an approved tuberculosis plan to protect inmates, but the standard says once you have over 100 beds, you have to test everyone annually," Herklotz said. "Even though (Rusk County has) more than 100 beds at their new facility, they thought they were OK since they still had under 100 inmates."

Gregg County was able to lend Rusk County the supplies it needed to test the inmates and jail staff before the investigator left, which prevented a non-compliance issue.

Munoz said the situation showed how other agencies can work together to serve their communities.

"Our inspectors like this, and the counties certainly like staying in compliance," he said.

Gregg County Sheriff Maxey Cerliano said he is committed to being a resource.

"If there is a sheriff that has a problem, then we stand ready as sheriffs to help others in the commission," Cerliano said. "We want to be a resource for our fellow sheriffs so they can call on us and help work through those problems to keep as many jails as we can in compliance with the standard."

He said the key was working together.

"And that includes stepping up like we did for Rusk County," Cerliano said.

Rusk County Jail Administrator Lt. Cassandra Shaw said it wasn't the first time another agency has lent a helping hand.

"We all need each other from time to time for different things. Whether we need to pick up something, execute a warrant or have (inmate) overflow. We also swap training if another county is training one week and we're not," Shaw said. "Whatever is needed they can call on me, and I call on them."

Munoz said the statewide low number of non-compliant jails was party because of inspectors being able to spend enough time at each jail to allow such issues to be addressed.

"If the jail is able to fix the issue before the inspector leaves at the end of the day, or within a reasonable time, the inspector will do a reinspection before they leave. This saves us from going back out there for a reinspection," Munoz said.

Shaw said staying in compliance isn't always a simple task.

"It's a hard thing to do. I don't think the public realizes that," Shaw said.

"It takes a whole lot, and if you don't stay on it, or have a way of networking, things could fall through the cracks."

This past year, Gregg County Jail was placed on the non-compliant list for a few weeks after an investigation was sparked by the death of a Gregg County inmate. The inspectors said jailers had been falsifying observation logs.

The Upshur County Jail was also placed on the non-compliant list in 2011 for paperwork, maintenance and fire drill-related issues.

At the time, Munoz said there were usually about 25 jails on the non-compliant list each month.



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