Saturday, May 17, 2014

Medical Services Is Top Complaint For Texas’ Inmates In 2013

EDITOR'S NOTE: A final project form Sprint 2014.

By Marissa Barnett, Alex Dropkin

Texas inmates filed more complaints to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards about medical services in 2013 than any other allegation.

Last year, the agency received more than 1,200 complaints from inmates. Those that fell within the jurisdiction of the commission, meaning inmate complaints that alleged a jail was violating the minimum standards set by the Legislature, were investigated by agency inspectors. Of the 461 complaints the TCJS investigated throughout the year, more than half were related to medical services.

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A common complaint about medical services is the time it takes to receive care, according to the Texas Civil Rights Project, an advocacy group that works with prison and jail populations. County jails are notoriously understaffed and may not have any nurses or medical practitioners, said Patricia Kelley, an organization spokesperson.

“We’ve heard from people who have been given aspirin for a broken arm or who waited a week to be seen,” Kelley said.

Though Harris and Dallas county, the two most populous in Texas, led the state with 27 and 24 inmate complaints, respectively, many smaller counties with fractions of the population had high numbers of complaints. McLennan County, which includes Waco, had more than half (15) the complaints of either

Harris or Dallas in 2013, even though it has less than 250,000 residents.

The jail population in Texas hovered near 65,000 people, according to the agency’s 2013 annual report.
The top five categories for complaints were medical services, other, food services, sanitation and services. Violations fall into one of 16 categories, any complaint that falls outside of those categories is filed as other or miscellaneous.

“‘Other’ can range all over the board,” Woods said. “It may be that the jail doesn’t provide tennis shoes during recreation time or anything imaginable that falls outside of our jurisdiction.”


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