What’s Behind Recent Cuts to Harris County Jail Staff

The sheriff has cut the number of staff members who conduct jail inspections and internal investigations of police force.

By Rhonda FanningFebruary 4, 2016 2:20 pm

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office is going through some changes, not an easy task when you consider the department has more than 4,000 employees. It’s the largest sheriff’s office in Texas and the third-largest in the nation, with 8,500 people in jail at any given time. Jailhouse deaths in Texas have made front-page headlines and not everyone is happy that Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman is cutting staff.

James Pinkerton, criminal justice reporter for the Houston Chronicle, says Hickman has halved the number of internal jail inspectors, to 8 from 15 people. He says Hickman also disbanded internal affairs investigators, who look into charges against employees.

“They felt like, in the past, there were too many low-level complaints sent directly to the internal affairs,” Pinkerton says. “They felt like it was better to give the lower-level supervisors, the sergeants, more authority to make them enforce some of these regulations as the complaints that came to them.”

Hickman has reversed decisions made by the previous sheriff Adrian Garcia, who stepped down to run for Houston mayor. After Sylvester Turner won, Garcia announced he was running for a Congressional seat to represent Harris County. Garcia says Hickman’s actions sound “like the good ol’ boys are trying to take us to the bad ol’ days.” Pinkerton says Garcia’s comments haven’t been raised in his campaigning, so he doesn’t see it as political.

“(Garcia) tried to institute a number of reforms there,” Pinkerton says, “and I think he feels like they’re being undone prematurely.”

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.