The Jack Harwell Detention Center failed an unannounced jail inspection this month, its third failure in the past four years.
Staff at the privately operated Harwell jail has falsified logs to make it appear they had been checking on inmates at the required intervals, while surveillance footage shows some of the checks happening at intervals up to four times longer than the maximum allowed, according to the most recent Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspection report. The inspection also found jail staffing was below minimum requirements and jailers were not in their assigned wings.
“In some of these instances, it can be a matter of life and death,” commission Director Brandon Wood said of issues with inmate checks. “If an outside entity, such as the (Texas) Rangers or local law enforcement was so inclined, they could pursue it and go forward with criminal charges.”
In 2016, three Harwell jailers were arrested and indicted on charges they had altered documents to make it appear inmate checks had been made in the hours leading up to 25-year-old Michael Angelo Martinez‘s death by suicide in a cell. Security footage in that case also showed the required checks had not happened, investigators reported.
The third-degree felony cases against Michael Wayne Crittenden, Milton Edward Walker, and Christopher David Simpson are pending.
In this month’s inspection, the jail standards commission found checks on higher-risk inmates, which are required at least every 30 minutes, had happened at intervals ranging from 30 minutes to almost two hours. Checks on general-population inmates, required at least every hour, had happened at intervals ranging from 54 minutes to an hour and 35 minutes, according to the inspection report.
LaSalle Corrections, the company that operates the jail, has 30 days to submit a corrective plan to the state.
When the state found problems at Harwell in 2015 and in 2016, follow-up inspections showed corrective plans for those violations had been implemented, Wood said. The inspections cover a range of requirements, including standards on facility construction, maintenance and operations.
Harwell was housing 1,093 inmates at the time of the most recent inspection, including 335 inmates sent by McLennan County. The county’s payments to LaSalle to run the jail will be going up from about $6.1 million per year to about $8 million per year.
County officials have said they have an estimate for the cost of taking over operations of the jail, but they have declined to disclose the figures.
The McLennan County Jail, run by the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office and connected to Harwell by a shared kitchen facility, has not failed a commission inspection since the early 2000s.
McLennan County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Ricky Armstrong, administrator of the McLennan County Jail, said his staff will help ensure the Jack Harwell jail will meet jail standards.
Attempts to reach LaSalle Corrections officials for comment were unsuccessful.