July 28, 2021 22:53

‘No Beds Left’ in Houston’s COVID-19 Superspreader Jail

Since mid-April, when the population hit its low of around 7,300, the number of people held at the Harris County Jail has steadily swelled and more than 2,600 people incarcerated there, and around 1,200 workers, have tested positive for the disease as of Jan. 15, reports The Appeal. As of Sunday, there were 8,889 people incarcerated inside Houston’s Harris County Jail, the largest facility of its kind in Texas. Of that number, 7,772—more than 87 percent—are being held pretrial. Nearly half of the people held in the jail, according to the county’s online jail population database, have been arrested on nonviolent charges. Six incarcerated people and two employees have died from the virus. Justice reform advocates have placed blame on three institutions: the Houston Police Department, which has continued to arrest people at a nonstop clip; local judges, who have failed to expedite the cases of those nearly 7,800 people being detained pretrial; and the office of Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, which has repeatedly rejected pleas from Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez to release thousands of pretrial detainees during the pandemic.

Tomorrow, the Harris County Commissioner’s Court—the county’s highest governing body—will meet to debate funding increases for Ogg’s office and the county’s sheriff’s department. The vote will determine whether Houston’s law enforcement apparatus will have more resources to continue its neglect in the face of a public health crisis. Both Gonzalez and members of the Harris County Justice Administration Department have recently asked county judges and the DA to either decrease bonds for pretrial detainees or to release those people from jail.

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