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Long-overdue Bexar County Jail audit wasn't supposed to 'drag on for a year,' but it has

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Eileen Pace | Texas Public Radio
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A long-awaited independent audit of the Bexar County Jail is yet to be released despite being months overdue. The $70,000 effort with two contracts — one from the sheriff’s office and the commissioners court — was expected in February of this year.

Sheriff Javier Salazar said Monday he was ready to present to commissioners and thought it would be on the agenda Tuesday, but it wasn’t.

The Bexar County Jail, like many others, has struggled to keep up with the demands of COVID and the continued backlog of the courts. High numbers inside the jail, aging and at times failing infrastructure along with high turnover rates has stretched the agency thin for two years.

The struggles haven’t gone unnoticed. Local defense attorneys complain about the length of time it takes to process people who are arrested — often lasting days. In one instance TPR found a man who had remained in jail an extra five months — lost in the system.

The day TPR released the aforementioned story, Salazar announced he was hiring Detain Inc., jail consultants, to provide an assessment. It paid around $49,000 from money it seized in court.

He promised quick results.

“We've asked them to wrap it up sooner rather than later,” he told reporters last October. “I don't want this thing to drag on for a year. We're envisioning that we would like them to be done by early 2022, at the latest. By early, I mean February.”

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar addresses the public in a TPR file photo.
Joey Palacios
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Texas Public Radio
Sheriff Javier Salazar standing outside Bexar County Adult Detention

But now nearly a year after the initial hiring, still no report. The contract BCSO has with Detain Inc. said it would be delivered no later than Aug. 1.

Meanwhile — Bexar County Commissioners who had long raised concerns around the amount of overtime pay being shelled out to prop up a short staffed jai — l were upset the sheriff hired a jail auditor. Then-commissioner, now county-judge-candidate, Trish DeBerry said the sheriff was trying to deflect criticism and she questioned the impartiality of the sheriff's pick

Commissioners voted to hire their own for about $20,000 also in October.

“I have grave concerns about the liability the county has associated with the jail unless we try to figure out what are the solutions moving forward,” DeBerry said.

Despite commissioners voting to hire Florida-based American Correctional Consultants in October, a source with knowledge said the contract was not signed until late January — when the process was originally talked about being completed.

One commissioner calls the sheriff's hire a "deflection" while the sheriff calls the court's pick a "waste" of taxpayer money.

DeBerry — the most visibly engaged and critical of the jail — left the court at the end of December to run for Bexar County Judge.

The efforts of Detain Inc. and American Correctional Consultants were then combined into one effort. According to people with knowledge, American Correctional Consultants early observations and results were completed in May.

Ron Tooke, president of the The Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Bexar county — which represents detention workers — said the delay is all about missing the budget window.

“I'm really concerned about this. As far as I know, the county is about to finalize their 2023 budget. And they're going to do that in the next week or two, I believe, pretty close. And what a coincidence, it would be, if the numbers weren't there,” said Tooke.

His union has been very vocal in recent weeks about the state of the jail’s infrastructure and staffing problems. But he worries it will not get the attention it needs this budget.

A county spokesperson said Monday the report was in final review at the county manager’s office, and may be already influencing budget conversations.

“It’s no surprise to see counties dragging their feet when it comes to reforms, or not being transparent about reforms that are recommended,” said Michele Deitch, senior distinguished lecturer on prisons and jails at the University of Texas’ LBJ School of Public Policy. “Inertia is easy and change is hard. That’s why we need local and state policy makers to step up and demand change when jails don’t implement these measures voluntarily or in a timely manner.”

The public report is now expected in September, about 11 months later — and for many who are working at the jail or detained that — years late.

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Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org and on Twitter at @paulflahive