1Oct 2020
Oct 1, 2020

Corrections Departments in Texas – Changes to Protocols Due to COVID 19

On March 13, 2020, Governor Abbott through Executive Order GA-25, closed all State-Run correctional facilities to personal visitation, media, and attorney visits in an attempt to minimize transmission of COVID-19 into the facilities (TDCJ, 2020). For State facilities, new inmates can be transferred into state prisons after following screening protocols. To the extent possible, TDCJ is reporting release of inmates back to the community but does not detail if there is COVID 19 testing conducted prior to the release or how they are monitored in the community for COVID 19 related illness. Federally managed facilities in Texas are not discussed in this article.

While the executive order did not require counties or cities to suspend visitation, it does require counties to consult with Local Health Departments to determine what limitations should be placed on visitation (Wood, 2020). This has resulted in a variety of responses at the county and city levels ranging from no change to pre-COVID policies for visitation by family and attorneys to suspension of all in-person. The degree of outbreak in the community does not necessarily dictate the temporary COVID-19 policies within the jails. The table below provides a summary of selected county and city jails policies on visitation and how inmates are managed. While there have been some attempts to reduce jail populations, many of these were not successful in the long-term and many jails are reaching capacity again. These include a segment of the jail population who are unable to afford bail and are therefore ineligible for release prior to a court date despite being charged with low level misdemeanors. Many of these court dates are also delayed due to restricted access to municipal buildings. Adding to this, for some communities, are the third-party contractors for tracking, such as ankle monitors, requiring proof that an inmate is negative prior to providing an ankle monitor. So even if bail can be procured, an inmate may not be able to leave jail due to an unknown COVID status.

Across the state, reporting is generally at the county level, making it difficult to identify specific populations such as those in specific jails. Most jail administrators are not releasing statistics on cases of COVID with many of the news articles being related to deaths by inmates and/or employees. The level of infection within the sheriff offices is generally confirmed through changes in policing to allow for more officers to be in the jails to meet guard to inmate ratios.

In addition, the ability to get tested is inconsistent with many of the cities and counties with the highest rates of community infections and deaths reporting significant backlogs (Blackman & Harris, 2020). There was some reporting of similar issues within the county and city jails. For example, Harris County had a sudden one day jump to 26% on September 28, 2020 due to a large backlog of tests being posted. However, the current trend is actually 6.7% (HCPH, 2020), which is above the 5% recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There is little to no reporting of jail population data for COVID infections by the jails themselves and much of what is reported below is taken from newspaper and TV station news reports.

Transparency of positive cases and deaths is also inconsistent across the state for the various city and county jails even with reporting requirement to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS, 2020). The Commission is releasing daily count reports without explanation as to what the numbers mean, there is no trend report, or an ability to develop a trend report.

Brownsville. (2020, September 15). Thirteenth Amended Declaration of Local Disaster for Public Health Emergency. Retrieved September 28, 2020 from City of Brownsville: https://www.cob.us/DocumentCenter/View/10441/Thirteenth-Amended-Declaration-of-Local-Disaster-for-Public-Health-Emergency
Choate, T. (2020, July 28). Wichita County Sheriff David Duke: Over 20 inmates positive for COVID-19. Retrieved September 29, 2020 from Times Record News: https://www.timesrecordnews.com/story/news/local/2020/07/28/sheriff-david-duke-makes-jail-announcement-covid-19/5528638002/
Corpus Christi. (2020). Magistration and Detention Center. Retrieved September 28, 2020 from City of Corpus Christi: https://www.cctexas.com/services/health-services/magistration-and-detention-center
Corpus Christi. (2020). Municipal Court Covid-19 Operations & Instructions. Retrieved September 28, 2020 from City of Corpus Christi: https://cctexas.kordami.dev/detail/municipal-court-covid-19-operations-instructions
Dallas. (2020). Coronovirus (COVID-19): City Facility Closures. Retrieved September 29, 2020 from City of Dallas, Texas: https://dallascityhall.com/Pages/coronavirus-facility-closures.aspx
DPD. (2020, August 21). Dallas Police Department General Order. Retrieved September 29, 2020 from Dallas Police Department: https://dallaspolice.net/resources/Shared%20Documents/General-Orders.pdf#search=jail
EPCounty. (2020). Retrieved September 28, 2020 from El Paso Detention Bureau: https://www.epcounty.com/sheriff/detentionfacility.htm
Gamio, L., Mervosh, S., & Collins, K. (2020, July 23). Where the Virus is Sending People to Hospitals. Retrieved September 29, 2020 from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/07/23/us/coronavirus-hospitalizations-us.html?campaign_id=9&emc=edit_nn_20200723&instance_id=20544&nl=the-morning&regi_id=75843376&segment_id=34125&te=1&user_id=2e44da24c4ba17ef20cc569c9eaa4524
Harab, M., & Debenedetto, P. (2020, September 28). Mayor Turner Signs Order Allowing Cite-And-Release For Some Low-Level Offenses. Houston Public Media. Retrieved September 29, 2020 from https://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/news/criminal-justice/2020/09/28/382880/mayor-turner-signs-order-allowing-cite-and-release-for-some-low-level-offenses/
HCJ. (2020, September 23). From Harris County Jail: https://www.harriscountyso.org/Default.aspx
HCPH. (2020, September). Percent Positive COVID-19 Test Results by Day. Retrieved September 29, 2020 from Harris County/Houston COVID-19 Cases: https://harriscounty.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/9ce164d503fc4679bcad18c6f16e27d0
KFOX 14. (2020, August 31). COVID-19 infection rate less than 1 percent in El Paso jails. Retrieved September 25, 2020 from KFOX 14: https://kfoxtv.com/news/coronavirus/covid-19-infection-rate-less-than-1-percent-in-el-paso-jails
KIII Staff. (2020, July 13). 50 employees at the Nueces County Sheriff’s Department test positive for COVID-19. Retrieved September 29, 2020 from KIII Channel 3 News: https://www.kiiitv.com/article/news/50-employees-at-the-nueces-county-sheriffs-department-test-positive-for-covid-19/503-d0d469cc-3e9c-4af4-afda-3c7e8eeec197
KVIA. (2020, August 4). El Paso County Jail has 1st Inmate death due to Covid-19. Retrieved September 25, 2020 from KVIA: https://kvia.com/coronavirus/2020/08/04/el-paso-county-jail-has-1st-inmate-death-due-to-covid-19/
McGuinness, D. (2020, September 28). Turner to sign order launching cite-and-release, but advocates want it strengthened. Houston Chornicle. Retrieved September 28, 2020 from https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Turner-to-sign-order-launching-cite-and-release-15602963.php?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=HC_AfternoonReport&utm_term=news&utm_content=headlines&sid=5b0231ed2ddf9c1
McKnight, J. (2020, May 26). COVID-19 Operating Plan for the Wichita County Judiciary. Retrieved September 29, 2020 from Wichita County Texas: https://wichitacountytx.com/download/covid-19-operating-plan-district-courts/?wpdmdl=2890&refresh=5f73a7cd6ad5a1601415117
McKnight, J. (2020, July 15). Joint Statement of Wichita County District Courts and County Courts at Law. Retrieved September 29, 2020 from 30th District Court: https://wichitacountytx.com/download/joint-statement-of-wichita-county-district-courts-and-county-courts-at-law-effective-07-16-2020/?wpdmdl=2951&refresh=5f73a7cd66ec61601415117
MTC. (2020, August 10). Oliver J. Bell Unit. Retrieved September 23, 2020 from MTC Trails: www.mtctrains.com/facility/oliver-j-bell-unit/
NBCDFW. (2020, August 25). Lawsuit Against Dallas Sheriff Alleges Jail Conditions Spread COVID-19, Put Officers at ‘Extreme Risk’. Retrieved September 29, 2020 from Channel 5 NBC DFW: https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/coronavirus/lawsuit-filed-against-dallas-county-sheriff-alleges-conditions-in-dallas-jail-spread-covid-19-put-officers-at-extreme-risk/2432482/
Nueces County Jail. (2020). Jail Operations. Retrieved September 28, 2020 from Nuces County: https://www.nuecesco.com/law-enforcement/sheriff/jail-operations
Nueces County Sheriff. (2020). Jail Visitor Screening Questionnaire. Retrieved September 28, 2020 from Nueces County Texas: https://www.nuecesco.com/law-enforcement/sheriff/coronavirus-jail-visitors
Rodriguez, A. (2020, July 6). COVID-19 outbreak reported at Nueces County McKinzie Jail Annex. Retrieved September 29, 2020 from Caller Times: https://www.caller.com/story/news/local/2020/07/06/texas-covid-19-coronavirus-outbreak-reported-nueces-county-mckinzie-jail-annex/5382793002/
Sheridan, E. (2020, July 16). High number of inmates test positive for COVID-19; Some are quarantined for safety measures. Retrieved September 28, 2020 from The Brownsville Herald: https://www.brownsvilleherald.com/2020/07/16/high-number-inmates-test-positive-covid-19-quarantined-safety-measures/
Sheridan, E. (2020, August 20). New wave of COVID at county jails. Retrieved September 28, 2020 from The Brownsville Herald: https://www.brownsvilleherald.com/2020/08/20/new-wave-covid-county-jails/
Smith, M. (2020, April 29). Dozen of inmates test positive for COVID-19 at El Paso County Jail Downtown, Jail Annex. Retrieved September 25, 2020 from El Paso Times: https://www.elpasotimes.com/story/news/2020/06/29/coronavirus-outbreak-el-paso-downtown-jail-annex/3279973001/
(2020, September 23). Switchboard Operator TDCJ. (J. Lundberg, Interviewer)
TableauPublic. (2020, September 24). DFW Regional Dashboard – City of Dallas. Retrieved September 29, 2020 from DTX Innovation: https://public.tableau.com/profile/cityofdallasdtxinnovationteam/vizhome/CityofDallasCOVID-19Dashboard/Dashboard1#!/vizhome/Book3_15862351183220/DFWRegionalCases
Tatum, C. (2020, July 10). Why a Dallas County Jail inmate who was quarantined, not freed, says “they do everything backwards”. Retrieved September 29, 2020 from Dallas News: https://www.dallasnews.com/news/courts/2020/07/10/why-a-dallas-county-jail-inmate-who-was-quarantined-not-freed-says-they-do-everything-backwards/
TCJS. (2020, September 27). COVID Report September 27, 2020. Retrieved September 28, 2020 from https://www.tcjs.state.tx.us/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/TCJS_COVID_Report.pdf
TCJS. (2020). TCJS COVID-19 Report. Retrieved September 28, 2020 from Texas Commission on Jail Standards: https://www.tcjs.state.tx.us/
TDCJ. (2020, September 23). COVID-19 Dashboard. From Texas Department of Criminal Justice: www.tdcj.texas.gov/covid-19/mac_dashboard.html
The Intercept. (2020, July 16). Coronovirus Cases are Increasing at Texas Jail Where Efforts to Release People Amid Pandemic Fell Apart. Retrieved September 23, 2020 from The Intercept: https://theintercept.com/2020/07/16/coronavirus-texas-harris-county-jail/
Wood, B. S. (2020). Technical Assistance Memorandum RE: Suspension of In-Person Visits by Executive Order GA-25, May 22, 2020. Austin: Texas Commission on Jail Standards. Retrieved Septemer 29, 2020

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