Sheriff Lupe Valdez recently told The Dallas Morning News that under her watch, the ever-beleagured jail has improved "400 percent." She should have told that to Jill and Conrad Galvin, the devoted parents of a troubled son who had the misfortune to become a ward of Valdez for the last six months.
Yesterday, the Galvins addressed the Dallas County Commissioner's Court about their child's horrific plight behind bars. The Galvins said that he's been placed in a solitary cell surrounded by the discarded feces of the unlucky men who came before him. He's been refused medical treatment and rarely receives his prescribed anti-depressants, which could put him at risk for seizures.
The Galvins acknowledged that their son has problems -- he was arrested in August on a felony robbery charge -- and they never argued for his innocence or made wild, outrageous claims. Instead, they calmly told a story that has been echoed by countless inmates and their familes and, most recently, a thorough report on the conditions of the jail from the U.S. Department of Justice.
And just today comes word that the Texas Commission on Jail Standards is demanding Valdez fix her jail in three months -- or else.
"He doesn't deserve to be treated like an animal surrounded by other people's feces," Jill Galvin said. "The animal rights protesters would have shut down the Dallas Zoo if the animals were treated this way."
As Jill and then Conrad Galvin spoke of their son, most of the members of the Commissioner's Court looked uninterested. Maurine Dickey and Mike Cantrell seemed to have some papers on their desk that needed shuffling, while new Dallas County Judge Jim Foster, who would later try to assure the parents that they're dedicated to fixing the long-standing problems at the jail, appeared confused and lost.
Only Ken Mayfield looked at the parents as they were talking. When Conrad Galvin's steady voice finally cracked, when he at long last lost his remarkable composure, only Mayfield seemed like he cared. I don't know exactly which commissioners were paying attention or not -- after all, you don't have to make eye contact to listen. But if I were up there talking about a loved one struggling to stay alive, I'd like it if someone at least looked at me.
The sheriff, a rare sight at any meeting involving her jail, stood at the back of the room. Since she's taken office, she's blamed just about every problem at the jail on other people, from the facility's former medical provider for failing to provide decent health care to the Commissioner's Court for not giving her the staffing she needs. She's right to assign blame; her staff, for example, is not responsible for dispensing medication, that's the medical provider's job. Still, Valdez could stand to look in the mirror. Many of the failures of the Dallas County Jail reflect entirely on her management of the place.
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As the Justice Department report makes clear, the jail's unsanitary conditions are more a result of how the facility is operated than anything else. And that obviously falls on the sheriff. Certain parts of the jail are clean, the report notes. Other parts, for no particular reason, are filthy. The drains are clogged, the toilets are leaky, and the bathrooms are the resting place for fly larvae. At least that's what the feds found.
I'm not entirely sure how exactly Valdez determined her jail has improved 400 percent she became sheriff, but it couldn't have been by looking at the place. In August 2005, I talked to Scott Williams, a Dallas man who had been incarcerated on a DUI charge earlier that year. Like the Galvins, he talked of a nasty, malignant jail that at times makes Abu Ghraib look at a Motel 6. Late at night, inmates who weren't receiving their medication banged on their cell in protest. Others choose to write their names in shit on the walls, and one water fountain doubled as a toilet for an inmate with diarrhea.
"There was shit on the toilets," Williams said. "When I'm talking shit, I'm talking an inch of shit. I just squatted over it and pushed and tried to aim as best I could."
We could use that kind of effort from our sheriff. --Matt Pulle