It’s no secret that COVID-19 continues to spread quickly across America, and we don’t see the end in sight. Because of the uncertainty with the number of cases in Texas, mass testing began in May, including many of the jails in Travis County.
If you have a loved one serving time in a Travis County jail, you may be worried and fearful for their health and their life. You are not alone in your concern. The COVID-19 pandemic is tearing through jails and prisons across the country. Inmates are falling ill and dying in disproportionate numbers. As vulnerable members of society, they are still not receiving the testing needed to curb the spread of this deadly virus.
What can you do to protect them? By working with an experienced Travis County criminal defense lawyer, you may be able to get them released from jail during the COVID-19 crisis. But how worried should you be and how bad is the COVID-19 spread among inmates in Travis County?
Dissecting Travis County Jail COVID-19 Numbers
According to the data, the Travis County Jail system only has a handful of positive COVID-19 cases. Is this information correct?
Back in March, we started a conversation about how the Travis County jail system had reported zero cases. We were skeptical of those numbers because no testing was being done. In order to confirm cases, there must be testing. It’s awfully easy to report zero confirmed cases if you rarely test your staff, corrections officers, or inmates. As such, they could proudly declare that there were no Coronavirus cases.
Now, more inmates in Travis County Jails have been tested and to no one’s surprise, more are testing positive for COVID-19. As of June 2020, 333 Travis County inmates had been tested. Of those, 11 tested positive and 44 results are still pending. Three employees in law enforcement, 22 in corrections, and nine in administration also tested positive for COVID-19.
Sadly, only a small portion of inmates, correctional officers, and staff in Travis County jails are actually being tested for COVID-19. So, the real question is, how many inmates and employees who haven’t been tested could have the virus?
COVID-19 Cases Have Spiked in Texas Jails
Without knowing the number of people tested, it’s impossible to truthfully report how many cases of coronavirus there really are. In mid-May mass testing of staff and inmates in Texas jails began so that the state could assess the number of positive cases.
As a whole, the number of COVID-19 cases in the Texas Jail System grew over 38,000% from April to May and that percentage continues to rise.
To date, almost 66,500 inmates and 21,000 employees throughout Texas have been tested. It’s been reported that 6,600 inmates and about 960 staff members have tested positive.
One thing has been clear, inmates and correctional staff are extremely afraid of catching COVID-19. And for good reason. Jail systems in Travis County are designed to house large groups of people as efficiently and affordably as possible. That means they share resources and live in close confinement with each other. There is little possibility of social distancing or quarantining effectively in a jail system. Even healthcare is difficult to come by when an inmate gets sick.
To help facilitate more testing inside the prisons and jails, some states have begun to eliminate medical costs for COVID-19 related testing. Normally, inmates would pay a $2-$5 copay for doctor visits, medications, and testing. In March, Governor Abbott suspended inmate fees for health care services related to COVID-19.
Travis County Jail System
According to a number of defense attorneys, the actual number of testing taking place in the Travis County Jail System is extremely low. So far, testing kits have been hard to obtain. Hospitals, nursing homes, and federal prisons are receiving kits before local jails. This is one reason why actual numbers of COVID-19 cases in Travis County jails are difficult to assess.
Up to 1,600 inmates are housed in the Travis County jail on any given day and only eleven positive cases have been reported.
So far, county officials are praising the precautions that were implemented so early on to prevent the downtown jail and Del Valle correctional complex from becoming hot spots for COVID. Even when being extremely cautious could the Travis County Jail System truly have so few cases? …highly unlikely.
A few defense attorneys pointed out that the actual number of testing that has taken place in the Travis County jail system is quite low. Only 75 inmates have been tested within the facilities, which is only ONE percent of the daily jail population.
Jails VS Prisons Releasing Inmates
There are more than 2.2 million people behind bars across the United States. Inmates housed in jails and prisons face a greater risk of catching an illness, especially the quickly spreading coronavirus. During this time, the best way to protect inmates is to release the ones that may be at higher risk.
Jails generally keep inmates for shorter periods of time and typically house lighter sentenced inmates. Prisons, on the other hand, hold convicted criminals on longer sentences.
A surge in COVID-19 among local jails, such as Travis County, has prompted judges to urge for the release of many inmates. Unlike long-term prisons, jails are ill-equipped to control the virus and provide adequate healthcare for their inmates. This makes jailed inmates some of the most vulnerable to suffering serious and deadly consequences if they contract COVID-19.
Since March 31, more than 37,000 state and federal prisoners have been released to help curb the spread of COVID-19. At least 14,000 local jail inmates have also been released.
What’s Really happening Inside
Reuter’s recently published the account of an inmate placed in a Colorado jail who caught COVID-19. After a parole violation, Peterson, a 78-year-old inmate started showing signs of having the virus on March 11th. By March 30th he was released but on the verge of dying.
According to two inmates, his health declined quickly. Inmates alerted jail staff, but they kept Peterson in the general population. Inside the prison, inmates shared sinks and toilets with Peterson. They shared food and sometimes close quarters because of staffing and security measures. One of the inmates started to also show symptoms of COVID-19 after being exposed to the ill inmate but was never tested.
Peterson was clearly in need of medical assistance, but he was released and died two days later.
Infectious Disease experts classify persons like Peterson as “superspreaders.” By early May, 10 people in the jail’s population tested positive for the virus. However, only 22 tests had been given to the population of 480 inmates. As such, it is likely that far more inmates and correctional officers actually contracted COVID-19 because of Peterson.
Other jails across the U.S. and Texas have fared no better. Inmates have been issued gloves and soap, but no masks. Resources and test kits are low, and jails are not prioritized over other institutions when it comes to obtaining the resources necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Is a Travis County Jail COVID-19 Outbreak Coming?
How long can Travis County continue on without a large outbreak? As businesses continue to open and crowds start to gather, more people are being arrested. These people are being forced into crowded jails among an already vulnerable population. It seems like the question isn’t IF an outbreak is coming- it is WHEN will the outbreak arrive?
Family members are fearful, and we understand that you want to see your loved one safe and healthy. We have been working around the clock 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 we’ll help you understand the options. We will do everything we can to keep your family members safe and free.
Call our 24-hour legal helpline at (512) 474-1404 or fill out our confidential contact form to explore all of your legal options during this scary and difficult time. Our Travis County criminal defense lawyers want to protect your freedom, your future, and your health.