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Hays County Jail inmates, advocates speak out on poor jail conditions

A+photo+of+Hays+County+Law+Enforcement+Center%2C+Sunday%2C+March+26%2C+2023%2C+at+Hays+County+Dispatch.

A photo of Hays County Law Enforcement Center, Sunday, March 26, 2023, at Hays County Dispatch.

With new officials elected into the Hays County government last November, advocacy groups have asked for the county government to look into ways to improve the conditions of Hays County Jail. 
Inmates claim that the jail fosters a breaking facility, participates in medical negligence, withholds mail and “[encourages] abusive officers.” Advocacy groups also speak on Hays County Jail staff and said that the jail has a toxic work environment with a high turnover rate. 
Cyrus Grey, a past inmate of Hays County Jail, said the inmates struggle immensely because of the conditions. 
“The place is gross,” Grey said. “They feed you badly. Not because they don’t have the resources to feed you better and it’s very unhealthy.” 
Grey also said that it often takes weeks for them to receive medical attention should they need it. 
“I was there maybe five years and saw a medical professional maybe twice,” Grey said. “It takes anywhere from a month to three months before you see a doctor. By then, either your situation is much worse or your body has taken care of the problem by itself.”
Letters from current Hays County Jail inmates to the Hays County government say that medical neglect can go as far as near death. Melvin Nichols, an inmate with diabetes, said that he put in several medical request forms that were disregarded. 
“I had a real close call with death with a blood sugar count of 1667 by the time they got me to the hospital,” Nichols wrote. “When I arrived, I went into a coma that lasted two and a half days.” 
When he was released, Nichols was prescribed 40 units of insulin once a day and a diabetic diet. 
“I didn’t receive the insulin for 38 days,” Nichols wrote. “And I am still not receiving my diet.”
Amy Kamp, the Hays County Jail ambassador for Mano Amiga, said that the issue of medical care also extends into the pharmacy. 
“They have their own pharmacy there,” Kamp said. “And so, imagine you’re at a crossroads where you are given a specific antidepressant you were prescribed then you go into the jail and they tell you ‘we don’t have that one.'”
John Thomas, an inmate with several diagnosed medical conditions, also wrote a letter to the county about not being able to receive proper medical care. 
“Before coming here, I was scheduled to receive a sonogram, endoscopy and a colonoscopy,” Thomas wrote. “It has been five months, and the only procedure I have received is the sonogram. Some of these procedures are detrimental to keeping me alive.”
Grey said he believes that officers on the aggressive side are more likely to be unpunished for their behavior. 
“I remember this kid with autism was getting beat up by another guy,” Grey said. “Instead of trying to break it up, the officer’s response was to run over there and grab the kid who stood up to defend himself and slam him on his head and hold him down while the other kid is still trying to punch him.”
Kamp said that there is also an issue with inmates struggling to connect with the outside world. 
“When Cyrus was doing things for us like providing us with research, there were so many times that he was supposed to call but wasn’t able to because the phones were down,” Kamp said. 
Grey said that they also had issues with handling inmates’ mail.
“I would do a lot of legal paperwork myself to send into different courts and my mail would get tampered with and delayed so long,” Grey said. “There were times when I would have to respond by a deadline and I wouldn’t be able to because I never got my stuff. That affected my ability to really defend myself.”
According to the Hays County Jail database, there are currently 598 inmates in Hays County Jail. Most of them are there awaiting trial and sentencing. Hays County Chief of Staff Alexander Villalobos said the county government is currently working on measures to improve this rate.
“We are setting up pretrial services that could use create some diversionary programs that can help mitigate low-level nonviolent crimes or other crimes that could be diverted,” Villalobos said. “These pretrial services are still in their infancy. We are identifying ways to improve efficiency within those organizations.”
Villalobos said that they are also looking into giving less punishment to petty, nonviolent crimes. 
“We have a large population inside the jail that are pretrial,” Villalobos said. “Some of them have been there for a very long time. So providing these new resources, we believe that we can address those a little sooner. But it also is getting people to understand that, again, low-level nonviolent crimes don’t necessarily need to be addressed by an arrest.”
According to Kamp, these issues began to arise a couple of years ago with the previous prosecutor.  
“The previous prosecutor was just going crazy with prosecuting,” Kamp said. “And so when you’re constantly charging people with the most outrageous charge, the jail is going to be full of people who are there for a long time.” 
According to Grey, some inmates have been awaiting pre-trial for months or years. 
“When I first got there, like the first thing they tell you is to get comfortable because you’re gonna be here a while,” Grey said. “And I would hear people talking about how they’d been here three or four years waiting trial.” 
Villalobos said that he is thankful for advocacy groups in Hays County that work to improve the conditions of the jail. He said that he is proud of his community. 
“I see advocacy groups as opportunities to learn from some of the organizations that are engaged and are helping us,” Villalobos said. “A lot of them come with a lot of information and data and expertise that we can use so I’m glad that we have a very engaged community.” 
Grey said that he hopes students realize that they are in a time in their life when anything can happen. He said that he hopes they will know what is going on in their community.
“I know a lot of students have lost everything because of a simple situation,” Grey said. “And this city still governs itself as it did in the 70s.”

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  • A photo of warning signs outside Hays County Jail, Sunday, March 26, 2023, at Hays County Dispatch.

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