Corrective actions underway to increase Harris County Jail inmate safety

HARRIS COUNTY – The Harris County Sheriff’s Office is taking steps to further enhance inmate safety and prevent suicides.

Last month, the Sheriff’s Office self-reported to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards that inmate Debora Ann Lyons, 58, had committed suicide by hanging herself from a doorway in a common area of the 1200 Baker Street jail building. In response, the Jail Commission found that Harris County did not meet inmate observation requirements and has added Harris County to the list of more than a dozen other jails that are not in compliance with Texas Minimum Jail Standards.

“We take the safety of the nearly 10,000 inmates in our custody seriously, and we are committed to taking appropriate actions to improve. Our goal is for every inmate to eventually leave our jail healthy and for our suicide rate to reach zero,” Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said. “We are saddened by Ms. Lyons’ death and offer her family our since re condolences.”

The inmate suicide rate at the Harris County Jail since 2009 stands at 16 per 100,000 inmates. The national average among local jails is 50 suicides per 100,000 inmates, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Still, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office is implementing additional measures to bring the suicide rate down even more. Among the steps being taken are:
• Partnering with the Harris Center to launch a free suicide prevention and crisis phone line that connects inmates with counselors any time of the day. This pilot program is expected to launch in early October.
• Additional training for jail employees on proper inmate visual observation practices and procedures;
• Additional inmate mental health screening to better identify and treat those who might be suicidal;
• Continuing to conduct system-wide maintenance checks to identify and correct any physical plant issues which may impact inmate safety.

The Sheriff’s Office’s final corrective action plan is due to the Jail Commission within 30 days, after which a follow-up compliance inspection will be requested.

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