A court order stopped the release of inmates from the Harris County (Houston) jail on April 3rd. The order came after the first group of individuals had been released. According to an article on KHOU in Houston, “The first group of 12 nonviolent offenders who met requirements specified in an emergency order were released to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Not long after they left, a court order was issued ordering Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez to stop releasing felony inmates.
Earlier this week, the sheriff was ordered to release about 1,000 inmates by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who called the jail a ’ticking time bomb’ for Coronavirus.
’It basically tells me the script is going to keep changing,’ said Andy Kahan, Director of Victims' Services at Crime Stoppers.”
On March 29th, Governor Greg Abbott barred inmates accused or previously convicted of violent crimes from being released from jails without paying bail. Opponents, in a challenge to that order, felt that Abbott didn’t have the authority to issue that order. According to an article on KVUE in Houston, “A lawsuit has now been filed in the State District Court of Travis County on behalf of the misdemeanor magistrate judges of Harris County, three criminal defense nonprofit organizations and the NAACP of Texas. The lawsuit alleges that the executive order, "attempts to curb the lawful authority of judges and local officials to follow the advice of health experts by reducing their jail populations."
The lawsuit, filed against Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, sought to reverse the executive order.
In a press realase Attorney General Ken Paxton praised the ruling by the Texas Supreme Court that upheld the order:
“Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton today applauded the Texas Supreme Court for issuing a stay, halting a district court decision enjoining Governor Abbott’s Executive Order (GA 13), which prevented the release of potentially dangerous individuals on personal bonds without any individual assessment of their risk to the community. The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), asked the court to release potentially thousands of persons arrested for, charged with, or previously convicted of violent criminal acts.
“I’m thankful to the Texas Supreme Court for taking immediate action to protect the health and safety of Texans after the district court unlawfully ruled to allow the release of dangerous individuals. A health crisis cannot stop the need for justice, and the district court’s decision directly endangered the public,” said Attorney General Paxton. “We must all work together, including our justice system, to successfully protect our communities. My office will continue to defend Governor Abbott’s order to protect Texans during this unprecedented health crisis.”
Despite the stay issued by the Texas Supreme Court, a similar case urging the mass release of Dallas County Jail inmates – including those arrested for violent crimes such as murder, arson and armed robbery – was filed in Dallas federal district court late last week. The mass release of potentially violent individuals would directly endanger Texans.
For information on the spread or treatment of Coronavirus (COVID-19), please visit the Texas Department of State Health Services website.