Smith County Jail in the Spotlight – AGAIN

Grassroots America Seeks 4+ Years of Documents from/to Texas Commission on Jail Standards

What Every Taxpayer in Texas

Should Know about

County Jail Overcrowding

Myth vs Facts


Operating Texas County Jails Is Expensive.

What you don’t know could hurt your wallet!

Bottom line – up front:  The Smith County Jail is overcrowded – again, which may slap a remedial order on the jail and a fine on taxpayers from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. Some very expensive remedies may be straight ahead.  With a new jail that we’re still paying principal and interest on, how did we get here…again?  

Click here to see our fact-finding Public Information Act Request, which will yield important information necessary for due diligence and long-term policy and procedural recommendations.

While this situation in the backyard of Grassroots America’s Smith County home base rocketed this irksome topic to the top of our stack this week, this post will educate any taxpayer in any Texas county about county jails – a complicated, expensive, hot political mess often convoluted by purposeful political spin, myths, and misunderstandings about jurisdiction and statutory authority. Be very cautious about the over-use of COVID as an excuse.  As you read on, you will see there are far, far many other reasons for overcrowding.

The following was compiled by JoAnn Fleming who is supposed to be on medical leave; however, Fleming has almost 30 years of institutional knowledge on local government and has served for many years on county jail committees, as a county commissioner, and a policy advisor to elected officials.  We hope her notes are educational to our readers.

Educate Yourself – Separate Fact from Fiction

Your County Sheriff and Commissioners Court DO NOT set County Jail Standards! The State of Texas does!  So, don’t start scolding your commissioners court and sheriff about housing inmates in tents – local government does not have that authority.  Contact your State Senator, State Representative and be sure to let the Governor, Lt. Governor and House Speaker know your position on any of the rules made and enforced by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.  Also remember, any promise or move the Legislature makes can be nuked by the Governor, Lt. Governor, and House Speaker unless the Legislature has the courage to 1) pass rules that will get legislation to the floor for a vote and 2) override the Governor’s veto.

Brief History of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards

1975: Texas Legislature created the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to implement a declared state policy that all county jail facilities conform to minimum standards of construction, maintenance, and operation.

1983: Legislature expanded Commission’s jurisdiction to include county and municipal jails operated by private contractors.

1991: Legislature added the requirement for count, payment, and transfer of inmates when precipitated by crowded conditions as well as expanding the Commission’s role of consultation and technical assistance.

1993: Legislature expanded the role of the Commission by requiring that it provide consultation and technical assistance for the State Jail program.

1997: Legislature affirmed that counties, municipalities, and private vendors housing out-of-state inmates are within the Commission’s jurisdiction.

Texas Commission on Jail Standards’ statutory authority as set by the Texas Legislature:

It is the duty of the Commission to promulgate reasonable written rules and procedures establishing minimum standards, inspection procedures, enforcement policies and technical assistance for:

The construction, equipment, maintenance, and operation of jail facilities under its jurisdiction (county, municipal, and privately-operated local detention facilities);

The custody, care, and treatment of inmates (this includes the mandatory staffing ratio of detention officers to inmates; standards for observation of inmates; quantity of food served to inmates; jail climate control; outdoor recreation time; medication schedules; health care; visitation; separation of males and females by sight and sound; separation of inmate populations by classification of low, medium, maximum risk, suicide risk, and health issues); Note: It is important to remember that local jails house many who are pre-trial (legally presumed innocent).The remainder are either serving short sentences or are awaiting transfer to state prisons. Some jails are under contract to house federal inmates.

Programs of rehabilitation, education, and recreation for inmates confined in county and municipal jail facilities and privately-operated jails under its jurisdiction.

To read more about the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, click here.

More about jail facilities

As stated previously, local jail systems are regulated by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards – an agency that came about as the result of a federal lawsuit involving inmate conditions.  If legislation passed to allow tents for housing inmates, the tents would need to be in compliance with all the standards imposed by the federal ruling, and the tents would likely be approved only for low-risk inmates.   Tents for more dangerous populations of inmates require far more detention officers.  Due to space requirements, tent jails would likely require locating them out in unincorporated areas of counties. This would drive up operating costs – including staffing, transporting meals three times a day, transport costs for inmates to and from courts, and would also pose the thorny question – Who wants a jail tent city close to their rural neighborhood?

Jail overcrowding has many causes.  It is also dangerous for jail staff!

Solutions for jail overcrowding require a complete “end to end” review of detention – from arrest to trial to release or transfer to state prison. This review must include policies and procedures for the Sheriff’s Office, the Jail, the District Attorney’s Office, the District Clerk’s Office, the Courts, Probation Department, Pre-Trial Release, and any other unit involved in the criminal justice process.

Each part of the inmate process from arrest to book-in to holding to magistration to bond-setting/or pre-trial incarceration to investigations to trial-date setting to the actual trial/plea deal to the preparation of getting an inmate “paper-ready” to go to state prison must be analyzed for bottlenecks that slow down the process.

Time is definitely money in the criminal justice system.  The more days an inmate spends in a local jail, the higher the tab rises for local taxpayers.  Local taxpayers pay for all medical care for inmates, which can include kidney dialysis, cancer treatments, surgeries, dental care, medications, and hospitalization.

A few questions you should ask:

How many jail vacancies exist for detention officers?  Remember the 1-48 ratio of detention officers to inmates must also include a staffing or shift relief factor for sick leave, family leave, vacation, compensatory time, training, etc. The number of high-risk, suicide watch, and female inmates can also drive up staffing requirements as can the layout and configuration of jail cells

Are detention officer vacancies due to insufficient pay, an unsafe work environment due to policy failures, or mismanagement? Exit interviews should be required and reviewed to get the answers.

Are trials held every week?  If not, why not?

Are reports sent in timely to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards?

Are the local Judges, District Clerk, Sheriff, District Attorney, and mental health professionals working together for timely processing of inmates though the criminal justice system?

  1. As we review documents from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, we will report back our findings in a way that will help educate readers across Texas.  We will definitely engage Smith County officials after we gather the facts.

Remember, an informed taxpayer is a wiser taxpayer who is better equipped to separate fact from fiction and better able to detect what we call “courthouse myths.”

Accountability is everybody’s business.  Just do your homework first! 

Want Your Tax Dollars Used for Covid-19 Bribes

by Tom Fabry, Chairman 
Grassroots America’s Local Gov’t Watchdog Committee 

Tyler ISD: $500 Reward for Employees Taking C-19 Shot 
On 8/23, the Tyler ISD school board listed two Covid-19 related items on the meeting Agenda. 1) Give employees who take or have taken a gov’t-approved C-19 shot(s) a $500 stipend (prize).  2) Give an extra 10 days of paid sick leave if they take the shot and become ill or are later diagnosed with C-19.

These items, which could run well over $1 million, were inexplicably placed on the “Consent Agenda,” meaning these issues were to be considered “uncontroversial” or like a routine expense grouped with numerous other items and passed as a group without debate.  Had several concerned citizens not spoken up, the Board may have simply glossed over the Administration’s resolutions and approved them – without any debate!

Despite citizen objections, the Board passed the stipend unanimously.  The extra sick leave resolution was correctly tabled for more study.

Public Statement Delivered to the Tyler ISD Board
Grassroots America’s Local Watchdog Chairman Tom Fabry made the following public comments to the Tyler ISD Board AGAINST both resolutions:

“Nowhere in TISD’s five stated core beliefs is there a single word about delving into staff’s private medical decisions.  So NOT only are these $500 stipends NOT part of TISD’s Core Mission, but they are also NOT a prudent use of taxpayer funds.

“The stipend is a retroactive policy!  But it only applies to those getting the shot – what about those people that have natural immunity or have recovered from a C-19 infection? These folks have antibodies that are reportedly much better and longer lasting than the shot.  Add that to conscientious objections for closely held religious beliefs and the program is discriminatory.

“The same discriminatory problems apply to extended sick leave for those opting-in to the stipend (bribe) and who take the shot.  Again, those who have natural immunity often should NOT get the shot – why are they not protected by your largesse?   Or what about getting the booster which some now are advocating?  Does that qualify for another stipend?  How about booster #2, or 3 or X??

“Then there is the financial exposure to the taxpayers.  The stipend is over $1 million at full opt-in!  Has there been an analysis of the cost of extra paid leave?   No, because there is no hard data.  So, this would be like signing a blank check and planning to have a lot of substitute teachers on retainer.

“Moreover, various studies have shown massive numbers of so-called Covid-19 cases that have been incorrectly classified as actual Covid cases versus “Having ‘X’ illness WITH Covid.”  Again, what is the financial exposure? And how do you manage and subsidize who has a “real” Covid illness?

“But the final and only argument that matters is this:  Health decisions are a PERSONAL and PRIVATE matter.  You have no idea whether there are mitigating health reasons that warn of potentially fatal side effects. And you have no business questioning a person’s deeply held religious beliefs.

“I’ve read the Board Goals that you have listed on the web site.  I applaud you for publishing quantifiable metrics actually focused on the mission of this school District.  So, I encourage you to stick to your mission – increase the achievement of TISD students in the core competencies of reading, math, and graduation rates.    If you are going to give stipends – do it for exemplary student achievement gains!   Thank you.”

ACTION You Can Take!
Pay property taxes to Tyler ISD? Don’t like this use of your tax dollars?  Call the school board!

Find the Tyler ISD Board contact information by clicking this link and then clicking each name on the list. Note the District Map to the right of each name.  This will help you determine which elected Trustee represents you on the Board by simply clicking on the district links in the District Maps column. Having trouble locating the information? Email Watchdog Committee Chairman Tom Fabry:

Live in Another School District?
This is happening in other school districts across Texas.  Click here to look up your school district by County. When you locate the school districts in your county, then you can select the school district information that will give a link for your School District’s website.  On your School District’s website, you can find your elected school board members and their contact information.  Having trouble locating the information? Email Watchdog Committee Chairman Tom Fabry:

Stern reminder
If you pay property taxes on a home and/or business, you have every right to question what these School Board Trustees do with your tax dollars!  It does NOT matter if you do not have kids in public school – YOU pay for everything the School Board approves to spend money on!  You have a fundamental right to ask questions.

I guarantee if you start asking questions and observing what is going on in your school district, you will begin to see that you need to pay attention to the School Board races that come up on your May ballot.

Don’t just sit there and stew about it, say something! As JoAnn always says, your silence to an elected official = your approval!

Encouraging you to engage your elected officials,

Tom Fabry
Chairman, Grassroots America’s Local Gov’t Watchdog Committee

Grassroots America Opposes 2019 County Tax Increase & Hoarding Cash

Executive Director JoAnn Fleming said of the proposed tax increase, “Most elected officials begin budget planning with the tax rate from the previous year. In most cases, this ‘lowballs’ the tax rate increase. We do not start our assessment with the current tax rate because increased property values automatically yield more revenue to local government if the prior year’s tax rate is maintained. Any increase in revenue from property taxes is a tax increase – even if the tax rate does not change.

Keeping an Eye on Local Officials: DA’s Office – What Nobody Else Will Tell You

What Grassroots America Has Asked the Smith County Commissioners Court to Do and Why It Should Matter to You – March 28, 2018

Do you get sick of national news reports about rogue federal government employees who do what they want, when they want, and there’s never a consequence for bad behavior even when they lie to Congress? Okay, we are sick of it too. That’s why when bad behavior crops up at the local level, we have to speak out. Let’s face it, if Grassroots America doesn’t, who will?