If anyone reading this lives in Harris County and has received notice that they now have a warrant out for their arrest due to unpaid fines, I suggest you pay those fines posthaste, because you don't want to wind up in a Harris County jail.
A Houston Chronicle review of state and county records reveals that from January 2001 through December 2006, at least 101 inmates -- an average of about 17 a year -- have died while in the custody of the Harris County Jail. In 2006 alone, after three consecutive years of failing to be in compliance with state standards, the jail recorded 22 in-custody deaths.
At the time of their deaths, at least 72 of the inmates -- more than 70 percent -- were awaiting court hearings and had yet to be convicted of the crimes that led to their incarceration.
Records and interviews show that almost one-third of the deaths involve questions of inadequate responses from guards and staff, failure by jail officials to provide inmates with essential medical and psychiatric care and medications, unsanitary conditions, and two allegations of physical abuse by guards.
In at least 13 cases, relatives or documents raise questions over whether inmates received needed medications prior to their deaths. Additionally, 11 of the deaths involve infections and illnesses suggesting sanitation problems. In 10 other cases, death reports suggest possible neglect, as in the Mack case.
At some point, I'm going to get a comment from some chucklehead who wants to know why we should care about how bad it is for prisoners. Putting aside the the fact that in Houston we've got a lot of unconvicted defendants in our jails, and the fact that what happens to a lot of inmates inside prison walls far exceeds the severity of their crimes, I look at it this way: The United States of America is supposed to be better than that. We're not a third world country. We shouldn't have third world jails.
Or, to put it in language that many people should understand:
31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'
44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'
45"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
46"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."