Another DMN Editorial on the Jail
The Dallas Morning News Editorial
Something to Talk About
10:35 AM CST on Sunday, December 17, 2006
Two questions about the Dallas County jails, but only one clear answer.
Where was Sheriff Lupe Valdez when a radioactive U.S. Department of Justice report hit the streets? (Turkey, as it turns out.)
And what’s she doing about the seemingly intractable problems in the nation’s seventh-largest jail system? (This is less clear.)
The 47-page DOJ report says her jails are so dangerously mismanaged that they “contributed to preventable deaths, hospitalizations and unnecessary harm” and violated inmates’ constitutional rights to care and safe conditions.
In a bad-news daily double, we learned the same day that jailer overtime for the last fiscal year shot up to an astounding $9.4 million, compared to $5.8 million the previous fiscal year and $1.8 million the one before that.
This didn’t strike us as the progress we hoped to see in June, when we noted that while we supported her 2004 election bid, we had become impatient with the lack of results.
One suggestion was to quit hiding behind “unavailable for comment” when bad news broke. It was unlucky to be so far away on a planned trip when the DOJ report was leaked; we can accept that the time difference and communication hang-ups complicated a response. Yet she should have read the full report before we found her Thursday.
A more important suggestion was to craft and implement a comprehensive plan to reform the troubled jail system. Proactive, not reactive.
Lean on experts at Parkland hospital, which had taken over jail health care, a key improvement. Make a more cogent case to county commissioners why she needs even more personnel (i.e., funding) to fix the many problems identified by state and now federal inspectors.
“The answer is we are doing that,” she said. “We have that plan. Should I have put that out and given it to you? Yes.
“It hasn’t been 100 percent improvement. It’s more like 400 percent improvement.”
We hope she’s right, but each new report reminds us that evidence is in short supply.
Suggestions will soon take a back seat to harder deadlines. The DOJ reserves the right to sue the county if its concerns aren’t met in 49 days. The next state jail inspection – three failures and counting – should happen around the time the feds’ window closes.
And voters, of course, will get their say in 2008.