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COUNTY INMATES Fort Bend and Waller counties have not reported COVID-19 cases among their inmates or jailers, but Harris County has. COVID-19 AMONG 658 or 8.4% of the Harris County jail population had an active positive test confirmation of the coronavirus as of May 13. 169 Number of Harris County jailers with an active positive test confirmation of the coronavirus as of May 13. 45 Number of Harris County jailers who were quarantined, isolated or pending test coronavirus test results as of May 13. 2,485 or 31.8% inmates at the Harris County jail were quarantined or isolated as of May 13.
DECLINING JAIL POPULATIONS
Katy’s three counties have reported decreases in their jail populations between March and May.
JAIL POPULATION AS OF:
10,000 8,000 9,000 6,000 7,000 4,000 5,000 2,000 3,000 1,000 0
The counties saw a 16.5% decrease in inmate
population since April.
HARRIS COUNTY JAIL CAPACITY
JAIL CAPACITY JAIL CAPACITY FORT BEND COUNTY WALLER COUNTY 1,770 110
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Criminal justice advocate: Jails, prisons ‘epicenters’ of coronavirus
SOURCE: TEXAS COMMISSION ON JAIL STANDARDS/ COMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER
used as a drug rehabilitation facility and can house about 200 inmates. As of May 11, there were 139 offenders housed in the facility, Desel said. However, The TDCJ reported May 13 there are 1,775 offenders statewide who have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than 21,000 offenders who are on medical restriction because they may have had contact with an active or pending coronavirus case. Fort Bend County Judge KP George issued a statement condemning the transfer of prisoners, citing concerns about public safety and the lack of communication from the TDCJ. Desel said anyone in contact with offend- ers at the Jester 1 Unit is wearing full personal protective equipment to be safe, but all of the inmates at the facility have been medically dis- charged from a hospital. “I don’t believe there is anyone that can 100% say when someone is or isn’t contagious,” Desel said. “[But] it makes more sense from a health care perspective for them to have a place they can step down to, as opposed to just diving back into the general population.”
BY CLAIRE SHOOP AND EVA VIGH
inmates in Harris County. Overall, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards reported a reduction of more than 12,000 offenders from March 1 to May 1 across the state’s 241 county jails, from 68,307 to 55,622 total offenders. During this time, Harris County dropped from 9,050 to 7562, Fort Bend dropped from to 808 to 686, and Waller County dropped from 55 to 32. State transfers The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has been transferring state prisoners infected with the coronavi- rus to units across Texas—including the Jester I unit in Fort Bend County— so they have better access to health care, TDCJ Director of Communica- tions Jeremy Desel said. In Fort Bend County, offenders at the Jester I unit in Richmond were transferred to different state units prior to the weekend of April 25 so about 35 offenders who had been treated for the coronavirus could be transferred there, Desel said. The Jester 1 Unit, which is typically
When news of the coronavirus swept across the globe, Jay Jenkins, Harris County project attorney for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, said one place immediately came to mind as a deadly hot spot: jails. “In a pandemic, a jail is one of the most dangerous places to be,” he said. Jenkins said he was worried jails would become a coronavirus “epicen- ter,” first spreading among offenders, then infecting staff, then staff’s families and visitors, and eventually into the county. Advocates of “compassionate release” say there is no effective way to social distance and stop the spread of disease in jails and prisons. However, pushback has come from officials who cite public safety concerns of releasing offenders on no-cost bail. On March 30, Gov. Greg Abbott released an order prohibiting the release of individuals in custody with a history of offenses involving physical violence. On April 14, a U.S. district judge rejected a petition for the emergency release of up to 4,000
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KATY EDITION • MAY 2020
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