Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state Sen. John Whitmire announced plans Tuesday for an interim jail safety study committee, a move spurred by questions surrounding Sandra Bland’s hanging death in July at the Waller County Jail northwest of Houston.
The committee will be tasked with examining how Texas jails handle inmate mental health and suicide issues. But the examination will be hard to contain, and that’s a good thing.
Whitmire, D-Houston, the longest-serving member of the Senate and chairman of its Criminal Justice Committee, praised Texas sheriffs, who run more than 240 county jails. But he asked them to re-examine their procedures.
When the new study committee holds hearings, no doubt some of those sheriffs will be called on to testify about their jails — and so will their critics.
And in addition to suicide prevention and inmate medical care, Whitmire says he wants to examine the state’s bail bond system.
People who are in the Texas bail bond business and their critics are likely to have a lot to say.
Department of Public Safety trooper Brian Encinia stopped Bland, 38, on a relatively minor traffic violation — failing to signal before changing lanes — July 10 in Prairie View. A disagreement between the two escalated, and Encinia arrested Bland and took her to jail.
She was unable to post a required $500 bond. On July 13, she was found hanged in her cell.
Her death has been ruled a suicide, but the local district attorney is investigating and will present findings to a grand jury.
Jail authorities failed to complete a two-part mental health check on Bland, who indicated she had previously attempted suicide. According to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, she should have been referred for a mental health evaluation.
She should have been more closely supervised.
Patrick and Whitmire should be commended for launching a study.
Besides the myriad questions about Bland’s death that demand answers, the incident put Texas jails in a national spotlight.
Texas must find out what went wrong and what can keep it from happening again.
The study might touch some sore spots — all the better for the healing process.