The Nightmare at Harris County Jail
It is no secret that prison or jail is not exactly a sleep-away camp for those convicted of crimes. Even so, some facilities are still far worse than others. Harris County Jail is one such jail that goes above and beyond the punishments doled out by other institutions.
Sadly, injustices occurring within a jail isn’t exactly news to most. In Harris County Jail there are approximately 10,000 inmates on any given day, which opens up countless opportunities for inmate abuse and violence. New surveillance in the jail has unveiled many of these such issues.
Mismatched Crime and Punishment
Punishments that rarely fit the crime are frequently dealt out within the jail. In one instance, a mentally-ill inmate spat upon a corrections officer, who proceeded to pin the inmate against a wall and then lock him into a secluded padded cell.
While such incidences are not unheard of, in-jail surveillance tapes disputed the event. Rather than detaining the inmate as he reported, the guard re-entered the cell and was videotaped punching the already-subdued prisoner in the head and face.
Overall Harm Inside Harris County Jail
From 2009 onward, there have been multiple cases of prisoner abuse:
- In eight separate cases, inmates were choked, punched, or kicked by corrections officers. Instead of receiving justice, the inmates were actually charged with felonies for violence against the jailers.
- Fifty-five inmates have died since 2009 from diabetes, hepatitis B or C, HIV or AIDS-related illnesses, a “superbug” staph infection, and at least 3 from homicides. There was also suicides from inmates improperly treated for mental illness.
- Multiple suicides have occurred, with little to no interference from staff members.
- Officer statements are taken at word, while inmate prosecutions against the jail are swept aside.
- Inmates with longstanding medical conditions can be denied their medication for long periods of time, such as insulin to diabetics and psychotropic medications for the mentally ill.
Senator John Whitmire deemed the facilities “unsafe and unhealthy” and set legislative hearings for the beginning of 2016. Whatever the results of these hearings, change is slow and unlikely to cause long-lasting policy changes.
The He-Said-She-Said Conundrum
Without surveillance cameras, abuses against inmates are difficult to prove.
When it comes down to an officer’s testimony against that of a jailed individual, judges and juries are more likely to come down on the side of “the law,” under the assumption that the prisoner is already likely to twist the truth, either in order to reduce their own jail time or get even with a guard they have a history of disagreements with.
Jails and prisons were not created to be a walk in the park. Even so, there is a major difference between discipline and abuse. Harris County Jail proves that an institution created for the greater good can cause even further harm.