State wants update on jail

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

Inmates at the Duval County Jail have complained in recent days about the temperature in the facility being too low, and the Texas Commisson on Jail Standards agrees.

Adan Munoz Jr., executive director for the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, said that according to Standard Rule 259, Secton 160 of the Texas Administrative Code, temperature levels shall be reasonably maintained between 65 and 85 degrees in all occupided areas at all times, failure to do so would find a jail in noncompliance.

"The Duval County jail is currently not in compliance. I have them on the agenda for the next commissioner's meeting to bring us an update as to what the status of their jail is, because they have been in noncompliance for awhile," Munoz said.

The Duval county jail and courthouse has had numerous problems as a result of improper renovation done to the structure in 1998.

The county was awarded nearly $4 million in compensation last month through a lawsuit filed by Duval County against companies responsible for faulty construction in a 1998 addition to the county jail and courthouse, county officials said.

According to court documents, once those projects were completed county representatives discovered "water damage, plumbing leaks, roof leaks and resulting damages," in both structures.

The lawsuit claimed the county "experienced numerous problems at the courthouse and jail as a result of the improper design, manufacture and installation of the new construction, the renovations performed to the existing structures and the systems contained therein."

Problems cited in the lawsuit also included plumbing leaks, water system overflows, electrical shorts and malfunctions and mold.

Anna Perales, the Duval County Jail Administrator, said a portion of that funding will be set aside to take care of needed air conditioning work at the jail.

"We try to accommodate everyone in the jail, and if one particular area is cold, we will move the inmates to another cell, where we feel it would be warmer for them," Perales said.

She said the complaints over the temperature stem from a disagreement the inmates had with a jail shift supervisor Saturday, and that the inmates complained to their families about the temperature because of that disagreement. Perales said the shift supervisor adjusted the temperature on Saturday to make it more comfortable for the inmates.

Liza Morin, whose relative is currently housed in the jail, said the explanation she heard was not that simple.

"He said it was really cold at night. It's been like that since the cold started. They asked the jailers to turn up the heater, but there's a sign that Perales put up that says don't touch the temperature," Morin said.

She said she tried several times to contact the Duval County Judge, but never reached him. The county judge's secretary said the judge would be out until Friday. Messages left at his office were not returned.

Family members of the inmates called on county officials to do something about the reported temperature conditions at the jail, and many times failed to reach the county sheriff or the chief deputy, they said.

Perales said the temperature controls are not locked up, and she said the jail staff tries to do everything they can to keep the temperature comfortable.

"We had inmates separated among three cells, and then we decided to move the inmates together, in order to keep better watch and also because the cell they were in was cooler than the others. They didn't like being moved to the other cell, and I think that might have led to them complaining to their family members," Perales said. "After we got the complaint calls on Tuesday, I sent the shift supervisor, Matilda Almaraz to check the cells, and if it was cold to move the inmates to another cell. The inmates told her they wanted to stay, and they denied that they had told anyone that it was too cold."

Sheriff Department officials said Sheriff Santiago Barrera had a death in the family and wasn't available. Messages left for Chief Deputy Bruno Valdez were not returned.

Staff writer Christopher Maher contributed to this report.