Repeat Offender: Dallas County Jail Fails Inspection for Second Straight Year

Dallas County Jail failed to meet Texas' minimum standards for jail conditions for a second year in a row.
Dallas County Jail failed to meet Texas' minimum standards for jail conditions for a second year in a row. Pixabay
Dallas County Jail failed to meet Texas’ minimum standards for acceptable jail conditions for the second year in a row.

According to a Texas Commission on Jail Standards’ report, state inspectors during an annual weeklong walk-through last month found that jail staff are violating at least four of the state’s minimum standards.

First on inspectors’ violations list is that officers have not been accurately documenting the times and frequencies of check-ins on inmates on suicide watches. The jail’s standing policy requires officers to observe each inmate on suicide watch once every 15 minutes, according to the report. Officers’ logged observations and their actual observations as recorded by surveillance cameras in the suicide watch wing didn't match up, inspectors said.

The same week as last month’s inspection, a jailed man on suicide watch, Deron Tolbert, died after experiencing a sudden medical emergency in his single-occupancy cell. Officers weren’t aware of Tolbert’s distress until fellow suicide watch inmates alerted them.

The commission also cited the jail for failing to provide a clean uniform and towel to inmates in mental health “crisis care” at least once a week. Last fall, people held at Dallas County Jail went weeks without clean clothes.

State inspectors described rampant disrepair in the jail's north tower as well; dozens of cell doors throughout the facility were broken, leaving officers unable to lock them. Many of these doors were in the same housing units within the tower, "compromising the safety and security of the facility," the report says.

This is the second consecutive year the jail has failed the state’s inspection since Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown took office in 2019. It’s also the second straight year the jail has specifically fallen short on multiple basic hygiene standards for inmates.

Inspectors came to Dallas on Feb. 14, more than three weeks ago. That week began like any other annual inspection, according to jailers: Inspectors walked through each of the jail’s towers, interviewing staff and inmates and reviewing staff records of incidents and rounds. As scheduled, the commission staff met with county commissioners on Feb. 18 to discuss their findings.

Unlike in previous years, however, the commission's report wasn't released following the briefing, and neither state nor county officials ever clarified if the jail had passed or failed. Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price told reporters that afternoon that “they’re just saying that there are some technical issues that we have, and that they’ve given us a planned date to ameliorate those issues.”

On Feb. 23, the commission announced the jail’s failing grade and delivered the inspectors’ report to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and Sheriff Brown. Neither county nor state officials made a public statement about the failed inspection, and the report wasn’t made public.

Then, last week, state inspectors returned to the jail, internal sheriff’s office emails and county memos show. The purpose of their multi-day return visit is unknown. Neither county nor commission officials immediately responded to request for comment.

For each of the four standards violated, the commission issued instructions to the sheriff’s office and the county for restoring compliance. The sheriff’s office will have to provide the commission with various forms of documentation within 30 days or less showing their compliance with the state’s instructions or risk an additional non-compliance notification.
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Michael Murney is a staff writer at the Dallas Observer and a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. His reporting has appeared in Chicago’s South Side Weekly and the Chicago Reader.
Contact: Michael Murney

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