Cypress Edition | February 2023

The Harris County Jail population has been trending upward since May 2020, rising above 90% capacity in August 2022. According to Brandon Wood, director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, counties aim to keep their capacities under 90%. Wood said a county’s jail population will vary seasonally, rising throughout the summer months into the end of the year. TCJS reports after August were not available as of press time. Tracking Harris County’s jail capacity


Oct. 1, 2006 : Jail population reaches 102.3% of jail’s capacity

March 11, 2020 : County Judge Lina Hidalgo issues disaster declaration at start of COVID-19 pandemic

Nov. 1, 2017 : Jail population drops to 75.4% of jail’s capacity


County jails aim to keep capacities below 90%


June 1, 2017 : Jail population climbs to 88.7% of jail’s capacity

Aug. 1, 2022 : Jail population rises to 91.4% of jail’s capacity, the rst time it exceeds 90% since 2016

July 10, 2007 : Commissioners

Dec. 18, 2007 : Commissioners renew previous outsourcing contract, bringing the total appropriation to $9M and the number of inmates to 600


approve an estimated $4M to outsource 400 inmates to Louisiana

Aug. 25, 2017 : County Judge Ed Emmett declares state of disaster following Hurricane Harvey



during the pandemic, has contributed to the high jail population, but he believes each entity needs to evaluate where it could improve. “Just like we bristle when other peo- ple tell us how to run our part of the jail, I’m not going to tell … the district attorney how to run her shop. … [or] the judges how to start clearing the backlogs on their dockets,” he said. “The bottom line is, are we keeping everyone safe in the jail? 2022 was not a good year. ... We have to do better.” In response to questions about the district attorney’s role in the size of the jail population, Communica- tions Director Joe Stinebaker said in a statement judges determine who is detained pending trial and who is not. “Reducing the court backlog and clearing dockets has been and will remain a top priority for this oce,” Stinebaker said. Unlike a state prison, the Harris County Jail is lled mostly by people awaiting trial—80.5% of the jail popu- lation on April 1 was pretrial, the sec- ond-highest rate in the state behind Travis County, according to American Civil Liberties Union data. However, from 1998 until December 2007, the pretrial incarceration rate was below 50%, according to TCJS reports. Krishnaveni Gundu, executive direc- tor for the Texas Jail Project, a nonprot organization advocating for jail reform, said in a statement she believes state and local policies have contributed to the growing pretrial percentage. “Instead of investing in robust

public health systems and housing— evidence-based solutions that reduce crime—we as a state have chosen to perpetrate punitive solutions that fail to address root causes of incarcera- tion,” Gundu said. Gundu said she believes the jail’s issues are the result of “accountability ping-pong” but also cited Senate Bill 6 as a reason for the rise in the jail pop- ulation. The bill, passed by the Texas Legislature in 2021, bans cashless bail for people charged with a violent oense as well as those charged with committing a felony while out on bail or community supervision following a previous violent oense charge. “Anecdotally from the people who work in the jail, … they feel strongly that [SB 6] has had a signicant impact on the population,” Spencer said. The bill also mandates creating a public safety report for each person booked into the jail, which Gundu claimed has lengthened the book- ing process across the board. In an analysis of processing times pre- and post-SB 6, the Harris County Oce of Justice and Safety found the average processing time increased roughly 10% from April-December 2021 to April-December 2022 for incarcerated people not directly aected by SB 6. A path forward The county has had to address high jail populations before. The jail was over 90% capacity for much of 2005- 09, TCJS data shows, peaking at 102% in October 2006.

Jail population snapshot The county’s jail population dashboard provides daily information on who is in the jail and contains more recent data than TCJS reports. The data below is pulled from Jan. 23.

Inmates with a mental health indicator


Inmates charged with a violent or serious crime


Total jail population (not including those outsourced to other jails) 10,033 Total number of inmates outsourced 859 SOURCE: HARRIS COUNTY JAIL POPULATION DASHBOARDCOMMUNITY IMPACT

The average length of stay for an inmate 200 days

of cases, the amount of time that peo- ple are spending in jail— … people who are coming into jail are coming in fre- quently with pre-existing health condi- tions that haven’t been addressed out in society,” Spencer said. But the county has helped lower the jail’s population before, and along with the hiring of a new head of detentions following the resignation of Shannon Herklotz on Jan. 9, ocials could take further action this year. ‘Accountability ping-pong’ Brandon Wood, director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, said counties aim to keep their jails under 90% of their capacity because jail beds have certain classications that make jail operations dicult above that level. The commission’s most recent report shows Harris County’s jail was at 91.36% of the total capacity on Aug. 1. Spencer said a conuence of factors, including a rise in crime nationally


keeping 64 inmates in temporary hold- ing cells for longer than 48 hours, and again Dec. 19 for failing to provide an inmate insulin. Jason Spencer, spokesperson for the Harris County Sheri's Oce, con- rmed 28-year-old Matthew Shelton's autopsy determined he died March 27 of diabetic ketoacidosis. Shelton was one of 27 people who died in Harris County in the custody of the HCSO last year, the highest number since 23 deaths in 2006, according to data from nonprot Texas Justice Initiative. County ocials and a criminal jus- tice advocate have oered varying explanations for the critical situation at the jail, including the backlog of criminal court cases exacerbated by Hurricane Harvey and the COVID- 19 pandemic, with some citing a bill passed by the state Legislature in 2021. “It’s not any one thing. The backlog



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