Harvey worsens overcrowding at Harris County jail
HOUSTON (AP) — Overcrowding at a Houston-area jail has worsened partly by a loss of beds and a court backlog after Hurricane Harvey.
The Harris County jail is over capacity by more than 200 inmates, with an additional 280 already sent to other counties, the Houston Chronicle reported . Harvey rendered more than 1,000 jail beds and the county’s criminal courthouse unusable, leading to crowded dockets and disorderly trial schedules.
The jail was authorized before the storm to hold almost 10,015 inmates. The facility’s capacity is now fewer than 8,950.
The sheriff’s office is preparing to formally request nearly 200 portable jail beds as an alternative to currently paying up to $65 per inmate per day to house them in other counties.
“We’re at a pretty critical point right now with the jail population and it’s the residual effects of Harvey’s impacts on Harris County’s criminal justice system,” said Jason Spencer, spokesman for the sheriff’s office. “Inmates aren’t coming in any faster or at any higher rate than pre-storm, but they’re staying longer and it’s particularly on the felony level.”
Some have argued overcrowding was a chronic problem before Harvey. Critics attributed the problem to judges’ reluctance to issue personal release bonds and prosecutor’s charging decisions.
Placing the blame on the storm is “not completely false but it’s not the real truth,” said Patrick McCann, a defense attorney. “The real truth is that they (local judges) are still reluctant to set PR bonds on the majority of their case load, which is partly due to political pressure from the bondsman and partly due to their own cowardice.”
The jail could soon get relief regardless of the portable bed request. The sheriff’s office expects to reopen more than 140 beds by the end of the week. Courtrooms on the upper floors of the courthouse could also resume business in coming weeks.
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com