County takes first step in jail population study

Hays County took a significant step in analysis of the population of Hays County Jail at their June 23 meeting.

Commissioners and County Judge Ruben Becerra voted unanimously to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Vera Institute for Justice, Inc. that spells out how data will be gathered and processed.

Pct. 3 Commissioner Lon Shell, who sponsored the agenda item, noted that the study won the approval of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee.

The study is expected to augment and clarify public information relative to the jail, including increases and decreases in population. The jail is chronically overcrowded and to counter that, the county has for years outsourced to facilities in other counties, some more than 150 miles distant, stressing not only the inmate and his or her family but also any attorneys connected to the case and cutting into the time of correctional officers who transport them.

The outsourcing comes at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars a week and its future may be in jeopardy because of the COVID-19 virus. Many inmates who were behind bars for nonviolent offenses or who had not yet been found guilty of a crime were released from custody in the spring because of the coronavirus. However, Travis County canceled its agreement with Hays County around the same time and commissioners have expressed concerns that other counties could follow suit as the pandemic continues.

Under the terms of the MOU, the county would provide daily admission data for everyone booked into the jail as well as all under county supervision, i.e. probation and parole. Booking data includes demographics like race/ethnicity, age, sex and county of residence, as well as arrest location and date, whether it was a warrant arrest and other indicators including whether a hold for federal officials is involved, and information about the offense itself and bond information.

Shell said the MOU is just the first step in bringing the study about. “At this time we are not sure how long it will take,” he said, for the actual study to be initiated.

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