BRAZOS COUNTY, Texas — The Texas Department of Criminal Justice recently announced that in-person visits to prisons will be allowed once again, as the state continues to reopen.
But, does the same change apply to county jails?
The answer is: not just yet, but maybe in the future.
County jails are run under the authority of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, which is separate from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice [TDCJ].
"Jails are just so different in different communities," said Brazos County jail administrator Kevin Stuart. "So they’ve asked that the jail submit a plan to their health department or health authority, on how they plan on implementing visitation again... and kind of defaulting to what’s safe for that particular community.”
Many jails in Texas have been unable to accommodate video chat visits during the pandemic, and some inmates have gone as long as a year without a visit from loved ones. The Brazos County Detention Center is in a unique position when it comes to visitation, however.
The jail has instated video visitation using on-site computers since its inception at its most recent location. Visitors could opt either to speak with an inmate using these computers or through their own devices at home. Though on-site computer usage was suspended during the pandemic, remote device visits could still be accommodated. The Brazos County Sheriff’s Office hopes to bring that on-site computer visitation back.
Kevin Stuart noted that visitation will be the only policy changing in the near future. Procedures the county aims to continue upholding include COVID-19 testing of all inmates entering the jail’s general population, and heightened cleaning protocols. The county will also continue to issue a larger amount of personal reconnaissance, or "PR," bonds to those with misdemeanor non-violent offenses.
"We feel like what we’ve done has worked," Stuart commented. "And we want to at least lag behind the community a little bit before we talk about lifting any of those protocols.”
Representatives with several sheriff’s offices across the Brazos Valley shared that their jails are taking similar actions to develop visitation policies for approval, as directed by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.