The family of Clinton Harrington told his story to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards on Thursday morning and pleaded for drug withdrawal-related reform in county jails.
Harrington died at the Victoria County Jail on Oct. 18, 2018, less than a month after he opted into a nine-day rapid opioid detox regimen. Medical records indicated that he died in excruciating pain without prior care.
Robin Morgan, a friend of Harrington’s mother, Carol Bludau, read the statement to the commission on her behalf at its monthly meeting in Austin.
“My son died a miserable death,” Morgan read from Bludau’s statement. “It is heartbreaking to know that other inmates tried to take care of him as best they could, report his condition to jail and medical staff, and watch as nothing was done to help him. There isn’t a moment on any given day that I do not think about my son and wonder what I could have possibly done to help him.”
Bludau’s statement called on the commission to strengthen standards for detoxification in jails and stressed the importance of ending the stigma of drug addiction.
“Opiate addiction is an epidemic in our country, and we must be given the tools to help people who are addicted,” she wrote. “They should not be treated as ‘just a drug addict.’ They have the potential to return to productive society, if we truly help them.”
The Texas Commission on Jail Standards is the state authority tasked with writing rules and procedures for minimal standards, inspection procedures and technical assistance for county jails.
The policy-making body consists of nine members, who are appointed by the governor to serve staggered six-year terms.
Commission members did not comment on Bludau’s statement.
Brandon Wood, executive director of the commission, said members refrain from responding to public comments because it puts the commission in a “gray area,” regardless of the substance of the statements.
“We simply let the investigation stand for itself,” Wood said.
The Victoria County Jail was not found out of compliance during the commission’s review of Harrington’s death, which is a standard procedure after a custodial death occurs.
The commission still values the input and evaluates concerns raised by the public, Wood said.
“Whether they’re recommending that different standards be put into place or whatever the case may be,” Wood said. “We have had individuals make comments that board members have requested that we take a look at and possibly provide them some additional background information on and at that point in time, they could instruct staff to possibly draft proposed language for rules or whatever the case may be.”
Bludau hired Scott Medlock, an Austin-based civil rights attorney, after Harrington’s death. He is currently investigating the case to assess his client’s legal options.
Medlock previously told the Advocate that the medical treatment Harrington received at the jail reflects a larger problem with substance abuse care in county jails.
“This case is like a lot of cases that we have with the opioid crisis,” he said. “The care that Mr. Harrington got to try and manage his condition is just atrocious in this jail, and this problem is a lot bigger than just Victoria County. Every county needs to be aware of this problem and ready to deal with it, and unfortunately, Victoria County was not prepared.”