Sunday, January 27, 2008

Trying to send magazines to inmates? Don't bother.

A recent letter from James included a subscription renewal notice for a monthly sports magazine. I'd taken out the subscription several months ago so he'd have something to read - the jail library only contains romance novels (I'm not joking).

Also, jail rules allow you to have books and magazines sent directly from retailers to inmates, but you can't send an inmate any reading materials directly. The Sheriff's Office Web site states this clearly - scroll down a while, you'll get to it eventually. If you got tired of scrolling, here's the rule, copied and pasted from

Inmates are allowed to receive books, magazines or newspapers sent from a bookstore (Barnes and Noble,, Borders, or directly from a publisher.

Here's the kicker: James never receive a single issue of his magazine.

However, the renewal notice had the correct address.

Where did all those magazines go? I can only assume that the sheriff's department employees are enjoying a subscription to Men's Health on my nickel.

Programs? What inmate programs?

While searching for a reference to jail commissary profits and what these profits allegedly pay for - seems they're supposed to fund inmate programs, but I can't find any proof of this line - I happened upon this at Lupe Valdez' re-election Web site.

I should point out here that I do NOT, and have never, blamed Sheriff Valdez for past conditions at DCJ. But I'm disappointed that the jail is still failing inspections (including last week's inspection). Also, she seems to keep an oddly low public profile.

Anyway, here's that Web page excerpt - I've left the typos as is:

Saving Taxpayers Money

Though reforms to the Dallas County Jail can be expsensive, Sheriff Valdez and her staff are always mindful of costs, and work diligently to save and maximize taxpayer dollars.

  • Sheriff Valdez overhauled the jail commissary contracting system, canceling "sweatheart" contracts set up by her predecessor. The commissary contract now brings in $1.5 million a year and these funds are used to improve programs for inmates in the Dallas County Jail System, offsetting costs that would otherwise be borne by taxpayers.

The problem is that neither James or anyone else have noticed any "improved programs" in the jail at all. Instead, inmates bribe trustees to sneak them a second or third blanket as it's been near-freezing in the jail.

When I visited James last Thursday, he sat there and literally shook the entire time. He wasn't allowed to bring a blanket with him (these days, most prisoners wear at least one blanket at all times).

In addition, if this commissary system is saving taxpayers money, why are taxpayers having to send more money to their friends and family members in jail?

If you'd like to read more about the current sheriff's accomplishments, real or otherwise, here's her re-election Web site.

Friday, January 25, 2008

No surprises here, folks

Yes, it's late news, but I've been a) swamped at work and b) sick as a dog with strep throat. But in case you didn't read about it, Dallas County Jail failed inspection for the fifth year in a row.

Here's an excerpt:

"I've watched this jail make more progress in the last two years than in the last two decades," County Commissioner John Wiley Price told state inspectors during a briefing on the latest inspection. "It will appear to the public that we've been lethargic. Nothing can be further from the truth."

Perhaps Mr. Price should actually visit the jail tanks, preferably incognito, to see lethargy hard at work.

For example, during my four months of visiting James, I've observed one uniformed staff member who has never done a single thing except sit in a chair and watch others work. Ever. But she has a pretty good attendance record, so maybe I'm just being mean-spirited.

I'm not saying all sheriff's department employees are lazy. For example, I've noticed that visiting hours run much more efficiently when certain sheriff's dept staff are managing it. Some even stop by and say hello to the regular visitors. But to fail an inspection for five years in a row - during which time, my county taxes nearly doubled - suggests something a bit more sinister is going on, especially where money is concerned.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

DJC commissary raises prices because of low sales

The inmates at DCJ have the option to buy food and toiletry items from what's called the "commissary", which is really a cart wheeled around the tanks. Many inmates avoid buying commissary items on principle, as the markups are astronomical. For example, a packet of dry soup that would probably cost you about 25 cents is priced at $1.50 each by Keefe Commissary Services. I've literally even heard the DCJ guards talking about this - one comment ended with "geez, I could get that for 18 cents at Wal-Mart".

Last week, Keefe Commissary Services decided to hike prices at DJC even further. Believing that a satisfied customer is an informed customer (yes, I'm being sarcastic), the commissary cart carried a sign announcing the price hike. The sign also had an explanation attached, blaming the inmates for the price hike as Keefe's sales at DJC were too low. I've asked James to write down the sign's message verbatim, so look for it next week.

Why jails are overcrowded with yet-to-be convicted people

An especially good entry from the Grits for Breakfast blog. Click here to read it in its entirety.

Here's an excerpt:

"An analysis by Grits of data from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards found that, while county jail populations increased 27% between 1995 and 2005, almost all that stemmed from more frequent detention of defendants before trial. ... In other words, there are many more defendants who can't make bail awaiting trial these days in the county lockup. Particularly for misdemeanants, just a decade ago many of those defendants would have been released on personal bond so taxpayers wouldn't pay to house them."

I'd like to add that it's even harder to make bail if you're booked in on the wrong charge (like James) - a charge that makes your bail WAY higher than it should. The reason for this? Someone in the Dallas DA's office can't proofread. When our attorney challenged the charge later, the DA's folks admitted "there was a typo in the indictment".

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Medical advice from Nurse Ratched

For those unfamiliar with the book/film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the antagonist of the story is named Nurse Ratched.

Most medical staff in the Dallas County jails don't wear name badges. Initially I thought this was to protect their identities, should they ever meet up with a dangerous inmate who might hold a grudge post-incarceration. Now I think it's because the majority of them are just making it up as they go along. There are few indications that most have had any proper medical training at all.

Over the last few months, James and several other inmates have received some extremely valuable medical advice from a grumpy, white-haired woman who is employed by the infirmary. (Yes, I'm being sarcastic here.) I have no idea if she's actually a nurse or not. I kinda doubt it.

Here's some examples: When James went the infirmary last week with a nasty sore throat, Miss Ratched told him to drink 15 glasses of water. When another, older inmate explained that he was having difficulty urinating, Miss Ratched suggested he take a warm shower. I'm not making this up, honest.

Most inmates complaining of any sort of illness are told to drink 10 glasses of water a day. I suppose the nursing staff have decided that if the inmates are too busy peeing, they'll be too busy to bother them.

Yet another example of our tax dollars at work ...