Dallas County's jail, under a federal court order to improve conditions, is making progress but still has serious problems caring for sick inmates, according to a recent report by inspectors.
The inspectors cited a lag in issuing medicines, no medical evaluations for incoming inmates with serious medical conditions, sketchy follow-up care, limited treatment for mentally ill patients, inadequate response to mounting sick-call requests and sanitation and maintenance issues.
Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, who oversees jail improvements, said in Thursday's editions of The Dallas Morning News that people get better medical care in county jails than in hospitals.
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"How many doctors' offices are open 24 hours?" asked Price, who complained about the strict federal standards the county jail must meet.
County commissioners have spent millions of dollars to increase staff and improve medical facilities over the past four years. They say they want the country's seventh largest jail to also be a model for the rest of the nation.
Even so, this week, the family of a former inmate with sickle-cell anemia filed a federal lawsuit against Dallas County. It claims that because Lee Jefferson Jr. went without needed medications while in jail in 2007, he suffered permanent brain damage and remains in a vegetative state.
Every six months, the jail is visited by a monitoring team to assess the county's progress as part of a 2007 agreement with the federal government. The U.S. attorney general had sued the county to force jail improvements.
The latest report is the government's third. It found the county jail to be substantially compliant in 12 court-ordered improvements, partially compliant in 22 areas and noncompliant in two areas: fire safety and infirmary care.
County officials said an infirmary will open in about 20 months and a smoke-removal system will soon be in place.