From Texas Public Radio:
Jacilet Griffin-Lee’s family was never the same after her son was arrested and sent to the Harris County jail. At a February hearing, she had three minutes to describe to a commission of state regulators the impact of Texas’ largest jail on her family.
“Nightly, my ears are ringing with my son’s last conversation. ‘Momma, get me out of here. I’mma die in here,’ ” she said.
Her son Evan Lee was murdered not long after. She is one of the dozens of families impacted by violence inside the Harris County Jail, statistically the most violent in the state, which saw a 20 year high in deaths.
When Griffin-Lee finished, another person spoke about another tragedy at another jail.
“These are human beings who are presumed innocent. But they’re too poor to post bond,” said one woman speaking about the Hays County Jail.
And then another.
“I’m embarrassed to sit in this room and hear the atrocities that happen,” said David Lee Sincere, Reverend of Fort Bend Transformation Church.
These quarterly meetings usually have one or two community members sharing experiences. But on this day, it was nearly 20 — families, friends, former incarcerated — all frustrated and heartbroken people. It was the most speakers the commission ever had, and it took up nearly 90 minutes, or half the meeting.
Across the state, the number of jail deaths, assaults, the lack of deliberate medical care and other serious incidents are all up, rising along with jail population counts.
The state now holds more than 70,000 people across its 242 jails. The growth is increasingly pushing the institutions to their limits.
In December, nearly two out of three people in a Texas county jail were legally innocent — not convicted. But they are subjected to rises in suicide, murder, and assaults, according to state data.
“Balls are being dropped,” said Brandon Wood, executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
Texas jail populations saw a rise of more than 9% from January 2022 to January 2023. As more jails fill up, more balls are likely to be dropped.
“If you become overcrowded, it’s like anything else,” Wood explained. “And you start putting more people into a space that it was originally designed for, that tension levels rise.”
Those numbers make it hard for jailers to manage people. Many at the commission meeting spoke about the lack of adequate medical care.
“Giving birth in Harris County [Jail] was the worst thing I have ever lived through,” said Amy Growcock.
She was arrested for being late providing a urine sample for her probation and sat in the jail for days — three of which she was in active labor — but she said Harris County Jail staff didn’t believe her.