Houston We Have A Problem In The Harris County Jail: A Call To Address The Root Causes – OpEd

By and

With almost 10,000 persons in the Harris County jail and 40 deaths over the last two years, jail overcrowding and deaths are a major concern and highlights the larger problems of jail dysfunction. The overcrowding of jails can lead to a lack of adequate space and resources for inmates, which can result in inhumane conditions and a higher risk of death.

The root causes of this issue stem from underfunding, inadequate staffing, and a lack of proper training and resources for jail staff. Addressing the issue of jail overcrowding and deaths in Harris County jail requires a comprehensive approach that addresses the underlying issues of jail dysfunction.

One of the main reasons that jail dysfunction persists is due to the failure of political leaders undertaking and implementing policies to address this issue. Despite the fact that the vast majority of people who are housed in jail for violent offenses, lawmakers continue to focus on building more prisons and passing harsher criminal justice laws, rather than investing in evidence-based alternatives such as mental health treatment programs and community-based supervision.

Another major factor contributing to jail dysfunction is the lack of oversight and accountability. Many jails are run by county officials who are not held accountable for the conditions within jails. This lack of oversight allows for an abuse of power and corruption that can manifest in excessive use of force, inhumane treatment of prisoners, and other forms of misconduct, such as correctional officers sexually assaulting prisoners, failing to perform their duties, and accepting bribes from prisoners.

Additionally, many jail staff are not properly trained to deal with the complex needs of the population they are serving. This can lead to a decrease in the efficiency of correctional officers performing their job duties, staff morale, and public trust in the criminal justice system and an increase in misdiagnosing and mistreating prisoner-patients with medical and mental health conditions, staff turnover, and civil and criminal lawsuits.

Finally, underfunding is a major issue that contributes to jail dysfunction. Many  jails are not adequately funded to provide the necessary resources and services to meet the needs of the population they are serving. This can lead to overcrowding, inadequate staffing, and a lack of basic necessities such as food, clothing and hygiene products.

In order to address jail dysfunction, it is essential that we invest in evidence-based alternatives to incarceration, increase oversight and accountability, provide proper training and resources for jail staff, and adequately fund our jail system. Only by taking these steps can we ensure that those who are incarcerated are treated with dignity and respect and that our jail system serves its intended purpose of rehabilitation and public safety.

  • Howard Henderson, PhD is the founding director of the Center for Justice Research and Professor of Justice Administration at Texas Southern University. A senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, his research focuses on structural and cultural predictors of criminal justice system disparities.
  • David A. Rembert, PhD is an assistant professor at Prairie View A&M University in the College of Juvenile Justice and Psychology.  His research portfolio includes examinations of correctional culture and behavior.

2 thoughts on “Houston We Have A Problem In The Harris County Jail: A Call To Address The Root Causes – OpEd

  • April 13, 2023 at 7:33 pm

    What about not jailing humans without a warrant and not arresting those with minor and non violent felonies before a court hearing??
    No one seems to have any problem destroying innocent lives that are wasted behind bars to generate revenue for the system??

  • June 5, 2023 at 8:01 am

    I agree Harris county is arresting people with not even a gram of drugs on them and I which they should be ticketed and sent on they’re way, that’s rediculous , jail and prison is for violent offenders , child molesters and murders, not a person that has a little drugs , maybe if they quit arresting people with a little drugs it wouldn’t be over crowded


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