Over six months ago, Houston saw one of the largest natural disasters in U.S. history descend on the city, and the city's servants are still feeling the aftermath. One problem? There's not enough room at the jail.
County lock-up still has over 1,000 beds they can't use due to the Hurricane Harvey, forcing the jail to house more inmates than they're able to handle. At least 280 inmates were transported to other counties, and the jail is still 200 people over capacity.
“We’re at a pretty critical point right now with the jail population," said Harris County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jason Spencer. "And it’s the residual effects of Harvey’s impacts on Harris County’s criminal justice system.”
Critical enough, according to one insider, that the county may start turning away arrestees. According to Spencer, the problem isn't that inmates are coming in faster—it's that they're staying longer due to the loss of the criminal courthouse.
The docket is backlogged because the criminal courthouse was flooded during Harvey. The trial schedules are in chaos, but some critics are pointing to judicial reluctance to issue personal release bonds. Thankfully, the county is working day-and-night to reopen some courthouse floors in the next few weeks.
Harris County Needs Courthouses
With the 20-story criminal courthouse out of commission, the county has spread the docket throughout the civil and family courthouses—which could slow down trial progress for a host of other cases. The secondary problem? There has been an increase in felony pretrial detainees.
The county is under federal orders to provide no-cash bail for misdemeanor defendants, but judges are reluctant to issue personal release bonds. Defense attorneys accuse them of bowing to political pressure from bail bondsmen.
As the accusations fly, Harris County's entire court system is stillaffected by Hurricane Harvey. We hope the rebuilding process builds momentum, and we look forward to a fully-functioning court system in the coming months.