SMITH COUNTY, Texas — The Texas Commission on Jail Standards recently found the Smith County Jail was non-compliant in regards to a lack of exercise given to some inmates.
According to the TCJS, each facility shall have and implement a written plan, approved by the Commission, for inmate physical exercise and physical recreation. Documentation of physical exercise and physical recreation shall be maintained for Commission review.
The Commission noted each inmate shall be allowed one hour of supervised physical exercise or physical recreation at least three days a week.
The TCJS says, while reviewing inmate recreation logs, it was determined Smith County Jail staff is not offering one hour of supervised physical exercise or physical recreation at least three days per week to the inmates on the second and third floors of the Smith County Jail.
According to Sheriff Larry Smith the issue is two-fold.
"There's a two prong part of that. One part of it was the jailer shortage per what the jailers we were allotted," Sheriff Smith explained, "even if we'd been 100 percent we're still understaffed with the number of staff we're allotted now, because of new unfunded mandates."
Those unfunded mandates add even more responsibilities and duties to detention officers. Several of the more recent ones are from the Sandra Bland Act which deals with mental health.
The staffing issue is one the Sheriff's office has been working to rectify for quite some time.
"We were as far as 26 (detention officers) down I think," the Sheriff said, "we're almost in a single digits now."
Getting every inmate the allotted recreation time is difficult due to being understaffed, especially in the old part of the jail where the non-compliance occurred.
"That part of the jail is very inefficient." Sheriff Smith said.
More personnel is required for that area which holds inmates in isolation, on suicide watch, and in smaller groups than the newer pods. When an inmate is going to visitation, the clinic, courts, or doctor it requires more personnel.
In the newer parts of the jail the inmates are divided into pods. Every pod holds 48 inmates supervised by one detention officer.
"It's the direct supervision and they have all of the video visitation activities can be done without them leaving their cell," The Sheriff explained.
The pod is also connected to their recreation area where the whole pod can take recreation at the same time.
While the jail was found to be non-compliant due to recreation, the Sheriff says they were actually praised on other things they do, like their timely inmate checks, which Sheriff Smith believes is one of the most important things.
"It's not like we missed required jail checks where it put an inmates life in in danger. So again, if we had to be out of compliance we pick the right place to be," he said.
He is now requiring the detention officers to send him the recreation logs every day and he will send a weekly report to the jail inspector.