Six inmates and two employees have died from COVID-19 in an overcrowded Houston jail. The overcrowding in many Texas jails has led at least one Sheriff to ask for help from federal judges to make room. One Houston jail’s population increased to over 9,000 people recently. Some Texas prisons have stopped accepting new inmates. Additionally, most Texas counties had not held criminal jury trials since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.
Defendants are Getting Stuck Waiting for Their Trials
As a result, some defendants have become stuck in county jails while waiting for their court dates. Courts have delayed court dates in many cases, leaving defendants stuck in jail awaiting trial. In the meantime, crimes have still been occurring, and police officers continue to make arrests. Texas County jails are running out of room for inmates.
Overcrowding in state prisons is especially dangerous during the coronavirus pandemic. The virus can spread quickly between people in densely populated areas. When jails become overcrowded, it becomes difficult for staff to keep inmates socially distanced. Many county jail residents have not even been convicted of a crime. They are awaiting trial and are being exposed to the virus as they wait.
Texas jails have historically operated by holding defendants awaiting trial or those who are serving short sentences. Typically Texas jails have a high turnover rate. However, delays within the Texas court system have resulted in fewer inmates being acquitted, set free, or found guilty and sent to prison. The turnaround rate has slowed significantly, creating a lack of beds for inmates. New inmates who come to county jails cannot be quarantined in some cases because the jails do not have the space to do so. Some Texas sheriffs have begged federal courts to do something about the overpopulation problem.
Judges are Attempting to Release More Inmates
Judges are trying to adapt to the unusual situation brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Many of them are holding virtual hearings with inmates who are still staying in jail and have begun implementing more aggressive conditions before releasing inmates, such as GPS ankle monitoring devices. They are attempting to release inmates who are not a danger to the public to make more room for new inmates.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has signed an emergency order that prohibits judges from releasing inmates accused or convicted of violent crimes if they cannot pay bail. However, defendants who have the cash to pay bail can be released. Some attorneys have pointed out that Texas judges are not reviewing cases to see if people in jail for months awaiting trial can be released safely.
Contact a Flower Mound Criminal Defense Lawyer
Have you been charged with a crime in Texas? Are you awaiting your trial in a County Jail, being exposed to the coronavirus? If so, the Flower Mound criminal defense lawyers at Abel Law Firm are here to help. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation.