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Senate Panel Mulls Jailer Turnover Measure

State jail officials would get a clearer picture of potential problems in county lockups under a bill a Senate panel considered on Tuesday that would require counties to report the monthly turnover rate among jailers.

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State jail officials would get a clearer picture of potential problems in county lockups under a bill a state Senate panel considered on Tuesday that would require counties to report the monthly turnover rate among jailers.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said the bill addressed an oversight from the 2009 legislative session, when the Sunset Advisory Commission recommended that the Texas Commission on Jail Standards keep track of potential problem indicators at county lockups, including turnover among staff. That measure, though, was not adopted.

An investigative report by The Texas Tribune revealed that the turnover rate among jailers in Gregg County was more than 40 percent during at least the last two years. The jail also reported an unusually large number of deaths for a facility its size: nine in five years.

Under Ellis' bill, jails would be required to report to the commission each month the number of jailers who quit or are fired. The commission is responsible for creating and enforcing rules relating to conditions at all 245 Texas county jails, including everything from health care to construction. Jails are currently required to report to the commission monthly on the number and type of inmates in their facilities. Jails are also required to report immediately to the commission when an inmate dies in custody.

Michele Deitch, a jail conditions expert and professor at the University of Texas' LBJ School of Public Affairs, said staff turnover is an early sign of serious problems at a facility. Tracking the data, she said, "makes all the sense in the world."

The bill was left pending.

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