Skip to main content

The Brief: July 24, 2015

The death of Sandra Bland in a Waller County Jail cell has renewed concerns among criminal justice advocates who say jailers' mental health training is inadequate.

Attendees hold candles in honor of Bland.

The Big Conversation

The death of Sandra Bland in a Waller County Jail cell has renewed concerns among criminal justice advocates who say jailers' mental health training is inadequate.

The latest details over Bland's death came Wednesday, with a preliminary autopsy report showing no signs of a violent struggle.

But mental health and criminal justice advocates say the apparent suicide could've been avoided if Bland's jailers had checked on her more often — as state standards require — and if they had better training. And as the Tribune's Edgar Walters and Kiah Collier report, those experts say "the lack of sufficient mental health training for jail staff is widespread in Texas":

With an annual budget of about $1 million, the watchdog agency that sets standards for the state's disparate network of 244 county and private jails employs four people to inspect those local lockups each year, and one inspector to respond to inmate complaints. The agency is chronically underfunded and understaffed, experts say, meaning citations for jails found out of compliance often come only after a tragedy.

The commission’s annual budget is, in many cases, one-third those of comparable agencies in other large states, The Texas Tribune has found. Its much smaller staff of inspectors, until recently, had to share motel rooms because of a limited travel budget. ... 

Even though it's understaffed and underfunded, criminal justice experts said, simply having an independent agency that inspects and regulates local detention facilities is rare in the United States.

When Ana Yáñez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, tells criminal justice officials in other states about the commission, “they’re like, ‘Seriously? You guys have that?’” she said in a telephone interview.

But suicides are still a significant issue for Texas officials, with 140 suicides in county jails since 2009 — and 118 of those coming through hangings. The Tribune's Terri Langford, Mallory Busch and Annie Daniel have a breakdown of the numbers and what Texas officials try to do to prevent these occurrences. 

Trib Must-Reads

Trump's Presidential Spectacle Sweeps Through Texas, by Patrick Svitek — Donald Trump swept through the sweltering border city of Laredo on Thursday afternoon at a dizzying, sometimes incomprehensible clip, mostly serving as the grand marshal of an amorphous parade of angry detractors, rowdy supporters and a massive press corps packed into a pair of coach buses.

For Abbott, Trump Creates a Challenge With Hispanics, by Alexa Ura — Hispanic Republican leaders in Texas were pretty happy with how Gov. Greg Abbott performed in his maiden year, but they're less pleased with his silence since Donald Trump starting bashing Mexican immigrants.

Patrick: My Office Didn't Start Veto Inquiry, by Ross Ramsey — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Thursday reiterated his disagreement with a letter questioning the governor's budget vetoes, saying his office did not initiate a letter from a legislative agency on that subject.

New State Goal: 60 Percent of Adults With a Degree By 2030, by Matthew Watkins — With an eye on keeping up with demographic changes and competing with other states and countries, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has adopted a new goal: Get 60 percent of Texans between 25 and 34 a postsecondary degree by 2030.

Texas Water Board OKs $4 Billion in Projects, by Kiah Collier — From transmission pipelines to desalination plants, the Texas Water Development Board approved funding on Thursday for dozens of water supply projects from Marfa to Houston, including a handful to promote conservation.

Elsewhere

Autopsy of Sandra Bland Finds Injuries Consistent With Suicide, Prosecutor Says, The New York Times

Man found hanged in HPD jail, Houston Chronicle

Perry: Trump Won't Make Circus of First Debate, RealClearPolitics

Perry takes on Trump to raise his own profile, The Dallas Morning News

Code Pink protesters disrupt Ted Cruz at rally, Politico

Abbott exits stock market and says ‘no’ to blind trust, San Antonio Express-News

Texas high speed rail passes major milestone with first fundraising announcement, Houston Chronicle

Civil-rights group threatens economic boycott over Richland Rebels name, claims discrimination, The Dallas Morning News

Dallas hair braider runs into tangles even with Texas law on his side, The Dallas Morning News

No relief in sight as crude skates past bearish milestone, Houston Chronicle

Obama names UT professor to council of economic advisers, Austin American-Statesman

Quote to Note

"Trump’s comments have really damaged that relationship."

— Artemio Muniz, the Federation of Hispanic Republicans state chairman, on how Donald Trump's comments on immigrants have hurt the GOP's efforts to reach Texas' Hispanic voters

Today in TribTalk

Welcome to Laredo, Mr. Trump, by Judith Zaffirini — If he’s willing to listen (and that’s a big if), Donald Trump's visit to Texas should provide him with a much-needed lesson on what life in border communities is actually like. 

News From Home

•    The latest episode of The Ticket, a co-production of the Tribune and KUT is out. Jay Root and Ben Philpott break down the campaign of Donald Trump and talk to Josh Hafner, who's reporting on the Trump campaign in Iowa for the Des Moines Register.

•    In this week's edition of the Trib+Edu newsletter: The NSA holds a free summer camp on cyber warfare, requests for flexibility on counting English language learners are getting different responses and an interview with Jacqueline R. Stillisano of Texas A&M's Department of Teaching, Learning and Culture.

Trib Events for the Calendar

     The Texas Tribune Festival on Oct. 16-18 at the University of Texas at Austin

Support public-service journalism that gets the context right

Yes, I'll donate today