Overcrowding in temporary jail holding cells, incompliant fire prevention and suspension equipment at the Nueces County Jail's facilities, and unsanitary kitchen conditions contributed to the jail's failed 2022 inspection.
In the Texas Commission on Jail Standards' report dated June 29, overcrowding has caused a ripple effect throughout the facilities.
Nueces County Sheriff J.C. Hooper oversees the jail, which he said was built in 1976, and told KRIS 6 News the facilities were at 100 percent capacity as recently as May. He also has talked about the need for the county to build a new facility.
“It's old, it's crumbling, and it's being held together by Band-Aids,” he told KRIS 6 News in February.
The county currently houses inmates at the jail next to the courthouse and at the McKinzie Jail Annex on North Padre Island Drive.
In the report, the TCJS states it was unaware of the severity of the jail's overcrowding problem before its inspection.
The report focuses on five key failings: holding cells, cell size, fire prevention plans, sanitation plans, and broken communication equipment.
Inmates were found to have been housed in holding cells, which jail standards state are meant to be used for temporary placement situations such as booking.
"On the dates of inspection, it was determined that multiple inmates were held in holding cells for more than 48 hours."
Those cells also reportedly were dirty, had mold and/or mildew in them and had clogged equipment.
This year's inspection also found that cells authorized to house inmates were populated by more than the 24 inmates allowed by statute. According to the report, the maximum number of inmates allowed in a cell is posted on the cell's door.
The report states, in part:
"While discussing this matter with the Nueces County Jail Administration it was discovered that they have faced overpopulation issues periodically since May 22 but never communicated this with their inspector or anyone at TCJS until the inspector arrived onsite for the annual inspection."
The kitchen facilities also reportedly had not been properly cleaned, with dry food stuck to the outside of appliances, and mold and/or mildew was found inside an ice machine. The report also states that the walk-in freezer also could not be properly closed.
Statute also calls for there to be effective two-way communication between jailers and inmates, but the TCJS inspection found that broken intercoms had forced 39 inmate beds out of commission.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been blamed for the brunt of the overcrowding issues after trials were stopped in order to avoid spreading the novel coronavirus in jury rooms and courtrooms. Many inmates were forced to stay at the jail until new trial dates were scheduled.
347th District Court Judge Missy Medary said that some of the jail's overcrowding could be alleviated by implementing a mental-health public-defender's office.
In April she and attorneys Lisa Greenberg and Danice Obregon told county commissioners that 25 percent of inmates suffer from mental illness, and that part of the problem is that many public defenders don't know how to properly represent and help these clients.
During that discussion, Obregon talked about a client of hers named "Kay," who repeatedly finds herself in the jail.
"The problem is, without addressing the mental health, she's right back in the system with a new charge," she said. "The system is not working for 'Kay,' or for our community. Today 'Kay' is back in jail."
This is a developing story. Check back with kristv.com for updates.