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Hughes lays down the law Austin On June 5, U.S. Dist. Judge Sarah T. Hughes ordered sweeping changes in the operation of the Dallas County jail. Her decision may force other Texas jails as well to comply with the often ignored 1957 state law setting out jail standards. Hughes called the Dallas jail “a factory for crime . . . turning people loose on the streets of Dallas who are more criminal than when they were put in jail.” She ordered: enough cells to accommodate inmates equal to the largest number of jail prisoners during any one day in 1972; solitary confinement cells to be not less than 40 square feet and including a bunk, commode and a lavatory; padded cells for mentally ill persons; an outdoor exercise area and a recreation program, perhaps using the jail’s roof for the required outdoor space; enough jail guards to handle security without using inmate assistants. She also told the sheriff’s office not to open or censor inmate mail addressed to courts, attorneys, parole officers, government agencies or the press; not to destroy reading materials owned by the inmates; to hold advance hearings on proposed punishment of more than three days in solitary confinement and to bar persons from visiting prisoners without the inmate’s consent. Three days after Judge Hughes handed down a decision, Dallas jail officials were back in court, this time on a contempt charge for hot acting immediately on some of the jail reforms. The judge decided not to cite Sheriff Clarence Jones for contempt, but she put him on notice that she would enforce her ruling. She accused County Judge Lew Sterrett and the county commissioners to being more interested in the expense of jail reform rather than the contents of her order. “They can’t delay the order of this court,” she said. “That order was effective June 5.” The judge said Dallas County officials have “completely ignored the rehabilitative role the jail should play in the criminal justice system. The practice of the jail is totally devoid of any constructive measure which might act on an individual prisoner to influence him to become a contributing member of society. The inmates are delegated to the dehumanizing existence of idle isolation in a cage.” fee. He waived extradition and now sits on a thin mattress on the floor of the day room of his tank with 50-70 other prisoners. The last time I saw him he had been there for 60 days and his name hadn’t even appeared on a docket yet. THE TANK’S day room has nine small windows on the wall separating , it from the main corridor. The windows have steel doors which may be opened and closed from the outside. Below these windows big enough to see a single face is a corrugated section which allows voices to pass back and forth if one yells loudly enough. One day per week visitors are allowed up into the cellblocks and a prisoner can bob his or her head up to the window to see a wife or father or sister or lover or friend or child and then presses his head to the corrugated section to listen, turning his head to yell out an answer. A visitor is allotted 30-45 minutes to see a prisoner, but most give up and go before the allotted time is over. Bobbing and looking and lifting baby up to see Mommy or Daddy and taking messages for other friends becomes tiresome after awhile, especially when eight other visitors are also bobbing and yelling and pressing their ears against the corrugated section to listen to eight other prisoners. Male prisoners whose last names begin with letters A-K can have visitors on Saturday and the remaining male prisoners have visitors on Sunday. All women prisoners have visitors on Saturday. If a potential jail visitor calls the jail, a sheriff’s deputy will only say that visiting is on Saturdays and Sundays no reference is made to the staggered schedule. Many disappointed wives, husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends, mothers, fathers and prisoners have learned too late that “yesterday” was the day, or that they must wait until “tomorrow.” 8 The Texas Observer One prisoner was in jail awaiting appeal. Twice the jury had been hung and the third time he was given a life sentence. He had refused to deal with the cop-out man. He has been in the jail over two years. His child was born while he was in jail. Every Saturday his wife brings his little girl to the jail and he looks at her through the small window. He wishes, like everyone else, there was a visitation system that would let prisoners and visitors speak softly to each other, to touch .. . if only briefly. He said to me: “That’s my little girl. I’ve never really heard her cry, never touched or held her, never changed a diaper.” Attorneys visiting their prisoner-clients are allowed to use a special, private cell with bars separating the two sections and stools. These cells, which allow normal conversation and a full view between prisoner and the attorney-visitor, were used for all visits before the jail riots last fall. Sheriff Jones says weapons and other contraband was being passed to prisoners in the special visitation cells and then used during the riots. The present visitation system is retaliation for the riots, say the prisoners. SOON AFTER my release from the jail a number of prisoners in my tank were moved to other tanks in disciplinary action. No one is sure exactly what infractions transpired, but jail officials say they were in possession of contraband. Those transferred were the leaders and “organizers” of the tank. They were also the prisoners who spent the most time talking to me. One of those transferred was the instigator of many jailhouse “killings,” a black comedy which not only serves as entertainment for the prisoners, but relieves tension and draws the prisoners together as a cohesive group. The “killings” are credited by many prisoners with easing tensions and hostility to the extent that our tank rarely if ever had an internal “disturbance.” The game of killing starts late at night if a new prisoner is brought to the tank. Since it is late the doors inside the tank have been closed for the night. Most tanks have six eight-person cells with eight hard bunks and a commode-basin. Since the jail is overcrowded, a ninth person sleeps on a mattress on the floor underneath one of the bunks. In addition, as many as 20 other prisoners must sleep on the tables and floor of the day room. At nine p.m. all the prisoners who are going to spend the night in their cells must go to them and the doors are closed \(electronically, from controls on the room, the door of which is also locked until morning. No one knows why this is done, except out of some feeble tradition. The day room prisoners and the cell prisoners are separated by a corridor. When a prisoner is brought into the tank late at night he is put into the day room. The older prisoners \(those with seniority and the captain: “Hey, is he queer? Why’d you put him in the queer tank, Captain?” The captain, a party to the joke, will usually answer: “There wasn’t room anywhere else.” As the new prisoner is arranging his mattress \(all the day room mattresses are rolled up and stored at the end of a ask him if he is queer. He invariably says “no” and the older prisoners taunt him: “Oh, but you will be by the time you get out. Just wait until morning.” The new prisoner, especially if he is slight of build or appears effeminate, waits for morning with great apprehension. The next morning he is subjected to more joking about his new role as a gay person, but is also informed that everyone was just kidding. He is warned, however, that a certain prisoner is crazy, dangerous, a “rough-trade” homosexual and to watch out. Actually, there is little, if any,