The Field Review - Local

CONTROVERSIAL: Hays County Jail, is it Really that Dangerous?

PLEASE NOTE: Nothing in this publishing or on this website should be taken as legal advice.

CONTROVERSIAL: Hays County Jail, is it Really that Dangerous?

The chatter over jail use of force rankings put out by the Houston Chronicle reported by Eric Dexheimer and Alexander Kanik has caused a stir. It caught our attention because of the angle of one local advocate news outlet provided. The Caldwell/Hays Examiner – which is a substantially partisan news outlet – attempted to call out the Hays County Sheriff’s Office and an individual running for Hays County Sheriff to respond to the Houston Chronicle report. The report indicated Hays County has 78 use of force incidents for every 1,000 inmates. The data was tabulated from 2017 to 2022.

We wonder, is it dangerous for the inmates, the staff, or is the definition to vague? A memorandum issued by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards dated January 31, 2018, provides reference to the data presented for publication in the Houston Chronicle. The technical support assistance memorandum informed sheriff’s of their reporting requirements for the “Serious Incidents Report,” being referenced.

The report goes into legal definitions used to determine what to report. For instance, the memorandum identifies “Use of Force Resulting in Bodily Injury,” as any injury incurred during a use of force incident, whether inmate, jailer, or civilian employee. It also states bodily injury is defined as physical pain, illness, or any impairment of physical condition – as defined in Texas Penal Code 1.07.

Serious Incident Report Data to be Maintained by Hays County Sheriff’s Office

Interestingly enough, prior to the story published by the Houston Chronicle, we were in process to request similar data from the Sheriff’s Office. We requested use of force information and are waiting to receive it; however, the “Serious Incident Report” memorandum states “The Jail Commission strongly recommends that each facility keep [their information which generated the numbers sent to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards], as well as additional information regarding these critical incidents in some type of database. Information reported to the Commission is public information subject to an open records request and requests for additional information above and beyond numbers received, will be referred back to each county.

Hays County Sheriff Gary Cutler Provides a Response

We reached out to Sheriff Cutler and he provided a written response related to our observation of a few publishing on the topic.

The articles that you have seen are grossly misrepresenting the facts.  The articles are trying to claim the numbers reported are all inmates being injured when in fact, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) requires us to report injuries of inmates, civilian staff, and correction officers.  The number of injured inmates during the time frame given is miniscule compared to the injuries our staff have sustained.  If the reported numbers were all Inmates, I feel confident TCJS would have investigated this story.

Another important topic in this discussion is what the definition of “Injury” is. TCJS uses the definition prescribed by the Texas Penal Code 1.07(a)(8) which defines “Injury” as physical pain, illness, or any impairment of physical condition. That is a very broad definition

We do agree, the definition does seem broad. So what type of incidents were reported to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards? We revert back to our pending open records request. Why are other locations not reporting higher numbers? Maybe the Hays County Sheriff’s Office is following the intent of the definition. Since the understanding by the Sheriff is the term is “very broad,” maybe they are reporting more than other locations because of it and maybe they are reporting more about their own staff – that seems to be in the indication in the statement provided by Sheriff Cutler.

A Couple of Our Other Reads

You may be interested in our publishing on the most recent campaign finance reports for Hays County Sheriff.

Or you may find our publishing on whether a sheriff’s office can perform law enforcement duties at a fixed weigh station, of interest.

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