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Texas Governor Greg Abbott is facing renewed calls to shrink jail populations to help people avoid possibly contracting COVID-19 as the state has become the nation’s biggest virus hotbed.
By the end of June, more than 8,200 inmates in the Texas prison system had tested positive for COVID-19 and 79 prisoners had died of the virus, according to The Marshall Project, which is keeping an up-to-date, state-by-state tally of coronavirus cases in prisons. Those numbers — the highest of any state — are just from state-run facilities. There are likely thousands more infections across the 270-plus county jails scattered across Texas.
Back in March, the governor issued an executive order curtailing the use of no-cost personal bonds and severely limiting the categories of inmates who qualify for release without bail in municipal and county jails during the COVID-19 outbreak. A group of criminal court judges, defense attorneys and others unsuccessfully challenged this order in a lawsuit, calling it an attempt by the governor to hamper Texas’ growing bail reform movement. Ever since, people who can’t afford bail have continued to be jailed pending trial, while existing inmates have largely been unable to secure their release on COVID-19-related grounds.
In response to the coronavirus spike, the governor in early July ordered Texans in most counties to wear masks in public, reversing his position after months of resisting calls for such as order. Given this development, it is possible that a modification of the March executive order could be forthcoming, as allowing more people to be released on bail would help prevent more infections inside prisons.
Faced with critical staffing shortages, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice was shuffling prisoners between various facilities to try to minimize the outbreak, but those efforts have become even more difficult amid the recent virus spike. Meanwhile, several counties have complained of receiving little guidance from the Texas Department of Health Services or other state agencies on how to slow the spread of COVID-19 in local lockups and of getting insufficient assistance to expand testing.
At the Law Offices of Kevin Collins in San Antonio, we believe that Texas must make bail more widely available, especially during this pandemic. If someone you know has been arrested and incarcerated during this unprecedented public health crisis, call 210-598-8629 or contact me online to speak with a dedicated Texas criminal defense lawyer.