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Harris County Sheriff's Office
Thursday February 4th, 2016 :: 03:10 p.m. CST


HCSO: The Op-Ed the Houston Chronicle Refused to Publish

By Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman

On October 3rd of 2015, the Houston Chronicle published a story entitled "Guards often brutalize and neglect inmates in Harris County Jail, records show." And so began the publication of a series criticizing the management of the Harris County Jail.

Readers would be led to believe that the stories rendered by certain Houston Chronicle reporters are representative of the Harris County Jail’s current management or conditions. At issue is not the factual inaccuracies of the series entitled "Jailhouse Jeopardy" (of which there are many), but rather the manner, context and timing in which these reports have been delivered to the general public.

It is clear that the liberties taken by the authors have resulted in a series of stories lacking the balance of a responsible news organization.

The Chronicle’s staff suggests that a sample of individual accounts, (told by former Harris County inmates themselves) some from years ago, is sufficient evidence of a “jailhouse in jeopardy.” Little attention is drawn to the dates of the incidents or years in between, which occurred under a previous administration.

This is chief amongst the dangerous deceptions at play. By chronicling the transgressions of the past in today’s paper, the staff at the Chronicle defrauds the public by context and time. Events dating as far back as 2009 cannot and should not be discussed in the context of present tense. The Chronicle has done so, with no disclaimer, dropping the failure of the past administration at my feet.

Unbalanced reporting, along with the omission of our department’s rebuttal is dangerous and not befitting of a top tier news organization. Readers in Houston expect and deserve accurate and balanced reporting.

On my first day in office, I reversed the policies of my predecessor that laid way for the indiscretions in the Chronicle’s reports. I raised the minimum age for detention personnel from 18 to 21 and have since opened the training academy for proper training of all new all correctional staff. Providing appropriate training to the personnel responsible for watching some of the most dangerous prisoners in the State is absolutely essential.

To better reveal the state of the Harris County Jail, I’ll point to the unannounced inspection conducted in December 2015 by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. Members of the Commission gave the Harris County Jail its highest marks in years, noting a decrease in the number of complaints from the inmate population, improvements to the atmosphere of calmness among inmates in the inmate living areas and the high morale of the employees. A fact shared with the Houston Chronicle that it has refused to report since December.

While I acknowledge that there is always room for improvement, the Houston Chronicle has failed to make note of the positive services that we provide. Lives are saved when inmates who lack access to healthcare in the community receive diagnosis for untreated illnesses. Recent advancements in the treatment of the mentally ill benefit inmate wellbeing. Access to vocational training and GED certification is creating opportunity for inmates as they reenter society. An overhaul in jail pastoral services has given those in need increased access to spiritual guidance, at a greatly reduced cost.

Allegations will arise in the future, and I have dedicated my administration to addressing employee misconduct appropriately and proportionally. My responsibility to the public’s trust mandates that all matters of wrongdoing are fully investigated, a fact that has not changed since taking office.

The Chronicle’s responsibility to provide fair and balanced reporting is as equally essential for maintaining the trust of the community which we both serve.

Harris County Sheriff's Office
1200 Baker St
Houston, TX 77002

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Non-emergencies: 713-221-6000

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