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Sheriff Gonzalez hires jail administrator

Interesting.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez

A former state jail inspector will oversee Harris County’s jail, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez announced Wednesday.

Shannon Herklotz, who worked for the Texas Commision on Jail Standards for more than 20 years, began serving as the jail’s chief of detentions on Monday, according to a statement from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

Harris County commissioners have for years tried to install a civilian administrator to oversee the county’s sprawling jail, which houses some 9,000 inmates at any given time and in recent years has been the site of several inmate suicides, assaults, or other violent incidents.

Herklotz was deputy director for the regulatory agency, which ensures all 239 Texas jails meet state standards.

“Our search for a Chief of Detentions targeted someone with the experience, values and vision to achieve our goal of cementing the Harris County Jail’s reputation for safety, innovation and professionalism,” stated Gonzalez. “These are qualities that our team displayed while managing the ongoing pandemic, and I am excited to see the continued transformation of the Harris County Jail under Shannon Herklotz’s leadership.”

Herklotz said he takes his duty seriously to ensure “care, custody and control of every person living inside our jail.”

“Keeping every person in the jail – including our staff and those entrusted into our care – safe and healthy is our first priority,” he said. “But more than that, we are committed to making sure people leave our jail better prepared to make a positive contribution to our community by connecting them with the resources and support they need to do so.”

The Harris County Jail is the largest jail in Texas, and the third-largest in the nation, with a current population of just over 9,000. Harris County officials have flirted with the idea of a civilian administrator several times over the last 30 years.

Commissioners considered trying to appoint a civilian administrator at least as far back as 1991, according to Chronicle archives. The move was driven by the soaring cost of the jail, and the increase in the sheriff’s budget, and as the sheriff’s office had struggled to control overcrowding in its facility.

As the story notes, this idea most recently surfaced in 2015, with the administrator being hired by and answering to Commissioners Court. That was shelved when a study concluded that a change in state law would be required for that. Existing law allows for the Sheriff to make such an appointment, however, and that’s what has happened here. I was skeptical at the time, mostly because I don’t trust Steve Radack, who was the original advocate for the idea, but then-Commissioner Gene Locke made what I thought were some decent arguments, so I was willing to listen. Locke’s main argument was that Sheriffs want to put their budget into patrol, which takes money away from jail administration, so having a jail administrator with a seat at the table can be a counterweight for that. We’ll see how that works when the administrator reports to the Sheriff. If Shannon Herklotz can help the jail consistently meet state standards – a problem it has had for some time now – and maybe also help figure out how to reduce its population, that will be a huge win.

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One Comment

  1. Sheriff Ed Gonzalez made an excellent choice in selecting former TCJS Assistant Director Shannon Herklotz as the Harris County Jail (HCJ) Administrator. When interacting with the TCJS, I found Director Herklotz to be an intelligent, knowledgeable, affable person who often provided practical guidance to help us resolve our local jail issues. I’m confident Director Herklotz will be able to leverage his extensive TCJS expertise and administrative experience to enhance existing HCJ operations.

    Of concern, the HCJ population reached 9,062 this morning (1/11/21). While the HCJ currently has 10,556 beds, 1,072 of those beds can only be used for minimum-security inmates (the 1307 Baker Street facility). Given the current breakdown of the HCJ population, I suspect there aren’t many healthy, GP, minimum-security inmates in the HCJ that can be housed at 1307 Baker Street (even if the HCSO had enough personnel to operate the additional duty posts). Given that constraint, the number of HCJ beds that can actually be utilized is closer to 9,484 (10,556 – 1,072 = 9,484). Even that number is misleadingly high due to other bed usage constraints, such as classification factors (e.g. gender, LOS), numerous special purpose cellblocks (e.g. MHU, Medical, PREA, Admin. Separation, Education, Re-Entry, Trustee) and cell maintenance issues. The only good news is that today’s HCJ population (9,062) includes several hundred inmates being processed at the JPC (they aren’t actually using a bed). Still, there isn’t much “usable” bed space left in the HCJ. For more information, I encourage everyone to read my post, “Let’s Reduce the Harris County Jail Population”, at HarrisCountyDemocrats.com. Thanks.

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