Editorial

Now more than ever, Crossroads jails need to be transparent.

As COVID-19 over and over defies expectations among Crossroads populations, many people held in local jails are holding their breaths, hoping their facilities will not fall victim to a dreaded outbreak.

Although Crossroads sheriffs say they have everything under control, if anything has proven true this year, it’s that COVID-19 is unpredictable.

DeWitt County Sheriff Carl Bowen said last week that his jail staff are doing their utmost to protect inmates.

But he also said the confined nature of jails mean it’s only a matter of time before an inmate falls sick.

In the face of that very real threat, Crossroads sheriffs and their jail staffs need to be proactive and forthcoming in communicating with the public about the inmates they are charged to protect.

After all, South Texas jails have “notoriously” been places lacking in transparency, said Diana Claitor, co-founder of the Texas Jail Project, a nonprofit that aims to give voice to those incarcerated in jails.

While the Texas Commission on Jail Standards publishes a daily report showing current COVID-19 infections in jails, there’s little other information publicly available about the level of infection in Crossroads jails.

And with jail visitation on hold to prevent coronavirus infections, many family members are “frantic” with worry about their loved ones behind bars, she said.

That worry is well founded, Claitor said, considering the close quarters inside jails, lack of readily accessible soap and hand sanitizer for inmates and myriad of chronic medical conditions among those inside, such as asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure. Those with mental illnesses may also be at enhanced risk without regular contact with loved ones.

That’s why jails need to increase the opportunities for inmates to speak with their families.

And it’s also why they need to increase their communications with the public and voluntarily spell out exactly what they are doing to keep their inmates safe.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate’s editorial board.

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