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Houston Inmates Get Shipped Far Away To Lockups With Less Oversight In Response To Jail Overcrowding

Evan Lee had trouble getting the medication he needed for mental illness and other health issues after being booked into the Harris County jail, just three days from Christmas in 2021. As a result, Lee’s family says he deteriorated during his time inside the hulking lockup in downtown Houston, until March 9, 2022, when he was badly beaten and injured by another inmate, Bolts reports. More than a week after the fight, jail staff finally sent Lee to a hospital because of how disoriented he was. Doctors found serious head injuries, including two areas of bleeding in his brain, and pronounced him brain-dead two days later.  Lee, 31, was one of at least 28 people who died after being in Harris County jail custody in 2022, when Texas’ largest jail system saw a record wave of deaths. Harris County officials have largely blamed the jail crisis on overcrowding and short staffing, yet they haven’t announced major new efforts to shrink the population they wish to jail. Instead, in response to the jail commission’s escalating pressure, they’ve started shipping even more people in their custody to for-profit lockups far from Harris County. 

Last month, after the state jail commission threatened to reduce Harris County’s jail capacity if it didn’t comply with minimum standards, the county’s governing body—its five-person commissioners court—unanimously approved a $11.3 million contract to send up to 360 people to a private prison in Mississippi. That’s on top of the roughly 1,300 people whose detention the sheriff’s office already outsources to other private lockups outside the county.  The outsourcing will put even more people in the hands of private prison companies with their own histories of abuse. CoreCivic, the private prison giant that inked the new contract with Harris County last month to detain people in one of its Mississippi lockups, has long been accused of short staffing, excessive force, and poor treatment at its facilities. And Harris County detainees shipped to the LaSalle Corrections Center in northwest Louisiana, nearly 300 miles from home, have already warned of dangerous conditions.


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