Harris County Inmate Release – The Impact of COVID-19

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As cases continue to rise of COVID-19 in Harris County, a better plan needs to be put in place to assure the safety and well-being of inmates and jail staff. Non-violent inmates with bonds set under $10,000 need to be released from Harris County jails immediately. Currently, there is no plan in place to protect the Harris County jail population.

Despite the opposition from Attorney General Ken Paxton, for weeks now, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzales and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo have been working on a plan to release hundreds, if not thousands, of inmates for non-violent offenses. Hidalgo has considered issuing an executive order but halted that the plan after learning that Paxton may pursue an injunction, tying her plan up in court.

Thankfully, on Friday, March 27, lawyers from the Civil Rights Corps, the Texas Civil Rights Project and pro bono counsel from Susman Godfrey, filed a lawsuit and stepped in with a constitutional approach to the jail problem. This solution may allow even more drastic cuts in the jail population than the compassionate release plan outlined by the Sheriff and the County Judge.

The superbly smart and thorough Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, who heard arguments on bail reform stemming back to 2017, asked lawyers to assemble a list of inmates that may qualify for release based on criminal history, charges, bond amounts, and risk factors. This list is to be assembled by Monday, March 30 and is a difficult task in such a short vacuum. Judge Rosenthal will attempt to find a balance that minimizes the risk of infections but still allows the criminal justice system to operate.

Jail facilities are not equipped to handle most serious infections and are far less equipped to handle a major pandemic outbreak. The viral infection in jails is not a question of if, but when, and when it hits, the impact can be severe and frightening.

Gary Tabakman is dedicated to handling cases for inmates seeking compassionate release and can request that judges lower bonds to minimize the risk of infections. Please contact Gary Tabakman for more details and questions by calling (713) 331-9457 today.