We have fielded countless calls from distressed family members seeking release of their loved ones amid the COVID-19 outbreak. While we have worked tirelessly to employ many different methods of securing one’s release from jail as quickly as possible, we know all too well the fear and concerns that persist around COVID exposure in the jail system.
While COVID-19 cases have been decreasing over the past three weeks in Texas at large, our jails and prisons remain hotspots. You may be asking, “Are prison and jail populations following the same precautions and safety protocols as the general population?” (The short answer is no.) To better advocate on behalf of our clients, we have sought answers to a seemingly obvious question:
As Texas begins to get a handle on COVID-19 cases within the state, why are inmates some of the most vulnerable in our state?
Before we dive into this topic deeper, please know that during this time we will leave no stone unturned to find a way to get your loved out of jail in Austin.
COVID-19 Cases Continue to Rise in Texas Jails
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is required to provide updated data about how COVID-19 cases impact local jails and state prisons. While we question the speed of delivery and accuracy of this information (read our previous article about the repeated denials of the presence of COVID in the Travis County Jail), the data that is offered shows just how severe this problem is within the system. It is now reported that every prison or jail in Texas (with the exception of one) has seen the presence of the virus. Given the clear and obvious false denials of other jails, you would be well within reason to doubt the “one exception.” Let me state that again: for all intents and purposes, every single prison and jail in the state of Texas has reported at least one positive COVID case.
To date, there have been 20,647 positive COVID-19 cases among offenders in the prison and jail system and 146 deaths. Among employees, there have been 4,438 positive cases and 20 deaths.
Even without context, these numbers cause concern. With context, they are even more distressing. Texas leads the USA with the most COVID-19 cases among prison and jail populations. Even though California is the most populous state, they have approximately half of the number of cases that Texas has—around 10,658 total cases. Why does Texas have twice the amount of positive COVID-19 cases than California?
Inmates across Texas in multiple detention facilities testify that they are being kept in close spaces with little to no air circulation. For example, at Fabian Dale Dominguez State Jail inmates experienced a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases going from zero to over five-hundred cases in two weeks. While some news stories may seem anecdotal, when we look at the aggregate data we can see some clear trends.
Furthermore, the facilities in Travis County are under lockdown due to the number of COVID-19 cases. So not only is this a state-wide problem, it is a problem that affects those in Austin, Texas directly. Additionally, as The University of Texas begins school, many experts expect COVID-19 cases to rise in Austin—potentially further burdening our local jail.
How Did Texas Governor Abbott Respond?
At the end of March, Governor Abbott issued an executive order that makes it even more difficult to release defendants from jail. This executive order came after a joint effort made by public health experts in Texas to bring awareness to the unpreparedness of Texas jails and prisons to handle COVID-19. Public health experts wrote to Governor Abbott and requested that he look into the health protocols—emphasizing the difficulty of maintaining social distance between inmates.
As the entire city of Austin was shutting down in late March, Governor Abbot made efforts to block releasing inmates accused of committing violent crimes from Texas jails and prisons. Meanwhile, Texas police departments continued their jobs as usual. As jail releases encountered a legislative roadblock, officers continued to arrest citizens.
What Does the Executive Order Say?
The order cites a case from 2018 that reversed standard guidance about procedures used to meet the Constitutional demands in bail proceedings in the state of Texas. The Governor has used this case as the basis for his March 2020 executive order that states,
The State of Texas, the Governor of Texas, and the Attorney General of Texas (“State Intervenors”) seek to intervene to defend the bail procedures that form the basis for plaintiffs’ confinement. Because the liberty interest at stake and the bail procedures at issue are creatures of state law, the State Intervenors have an interest in the outcome of this case.
The rest of the order outlines the argument for allowing executive power to take this type of control and slow down the process to release inmates from jail. Simply put, the executive order won’t release inmates who have been accused of committing a violent crime without a paid, cash bond.
Is the Executive Order Constitutional?
If you have a loved one in jail, you may be concerned that someone can intervene whenever permitted to do so and slow down their jail release. Chambers & Associates know that this order oversteps its boundaries and will work with you to overcome such hurdles.
As a firm, we look to county judges across the state and see their similar reactions. Many county judges in Texas are choosing not to follow Governor Abbott’s order to slow down jail releases during this pandemic season. Instead, they are choosing to work with local attorneys to low-level defendants. These judges are deciding to operate under federal laws that allow for certain misdemeanor defendants to be released without collecting bail payment.
What Does This Mean For You?
If you have a loved one currently in jail, then it is very important to hire an experienced attorney with an established reputation and good relationships with local judges.
No one wants to see a loved one stuck in jail, but no one wants this especially during a pandemic. Presently, the risk of contracting COVID-19 in a jail or prison is much higher than the rest of the population. Chambers & Associates works diligently every single day to find avenues to get our clients released from jail as quickly as possible.
If you have a loved one in jail, please reach out and our professionals will walk with you to help you understand the options that your loved one has. We will do everything we can to keep your family members safe, healthy, and free.