State inspectors said the jails in Goliad and Victoria do not meet the minimum standards for health and safety.
The Victoria County jail was issued a “notice of noncompliance” because of mold observed in the facility, according to a report from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the state body that monitors local jails. The inspector wrote that mold was observed during a previous inspection in March.
“To date, the mold issues still exist,” the report reads. “The mold present is a serious health and safety concern for both the inmates and the staff.”
Victoria County Judge Ben Zeller said local officials were well aware of the mold issue and had already taken steps to remedy the problem.
“I think a key issue is that this report was based without knowing the full expanse of what we’ve done,” Zeller said in an interview. “We’ve done a lot, we’ve analyzed and re-analyzed the threat that that mold may pose and once again learned that it does not pose a health and safety hazard.”
Zeller said a mold assessment consultant had tested the air quality in the jail Tuesday and deemed it “acceptable.”
The consultant found “no significant elevated levels of individual fungal spores were identified in relation to the outside air,” according to a copy of his findings.
Mold in high concentration can sometimes cause asthma or other respiratory problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The county has 30 days to respond in writing to the commission’s report, and Zeller said he was confident the issue would be resolved in the time allotted. Jails can be re-inspected after their initial inspection and deemed to be compliant if concerns raised in the report have been addressed.
In Goliad County, the local jail failed “to comply with minimum standards” after an inspection Dec. 5.
The jail’s most concerning violation was a failure to properly review inmates at risk for suicide, a reform enacted in the wake of Sandra Bland’s death. Sandra Bland was pulled over for a routine traffic stop in 2015 in Waller County and was jailed by the arresting officer. Bland was found dead in her cell days later, and her death was ruled a suicide. Amid outrage over Bland’s death, legislators enacted more stringent guidelines for identifying and monitoring inmates who are at risk of suicide, among other reforms.
In Goliad’s jail, the “inspector observed that the jail staff is not completing the mental health screening form in its entirety.”
Kirby Brumby, the Goliad County Sheriff, did not respond to a message seeking his response Thursday.
Goliad County Judge P.T. Calhoun said it was Brumby’s responsibility to bring the jail back into compliance.
“The jail failed the inspection and they need to correct it,” Calhoun said. “The worst, the most egregious ….violation is not having the people up to speed on the Sandra Bland doc, which has to do with mental health issues. That’s the worst of all.”
Diana Claitor, the executive director of the Texas Jail Project and an advocate for safer jail conditions, said all community members should care about jail safety issues because most people in jail will eventually end up back in the community.
“The general public is gradually becoming aware that it’s not just a bunch of serious criminals in the jails as much as it is their checker at the supermarket and their nephew that have disorders or mental illness,” Claitor said.
Claitor added that mental health support was of particular importance in local jails.
“Medical care in the jails is mostly about mental health care because a huge percentage of the people coming into the jail are in crisis or have untreated mental illnesses,” she said.
Another Crossroads jail, the Calhoun County jail, was initially deemed noncompliant after a state inspection but has since addressed the issues and is back in compliance, said Shannon Herklotz, the commission’s assistant director
The jail in Port Lavaca, which can house 144 people, was inspected Nov. 15, according to a jail inspection report. The state inspector found that jail staff were not performing face-to-face observation of inmates frequently enough, the report said. Regular face-to-face observations of inmates are mandated by state law to ensure that inmates are safe.
The jail was inspected a second time and is now back in compliance.