Bexar County Judge Says Texas' Refusal to Accept Jail Inmates May Fuel Another COVID-19 Outbreak

click to enlarge County Judge Nelson Wolff speaks during a recent coronavirus press briefing. - Screen Capture / KSAT 12
Screen Capture / KSAT 12
County Judge Nelson Wolff speaks during a recent coronavirus press briefing.
Texas' refusal to take custody of inmates from local lockups is overcrowding the Bexar County jail and risking another COVID-19 outbreak, County Nelson Wolff warned during a Tuesday evening press briefing.  

Even though Gov. Greg Abbott has issued a spate of orders reopening private businesses, the State of Texas continues to deny transfers of county inmates to its prisons and state hospital system during the pandemic.

What's more, Abbott issued an order in late March blocking judges from releasing some inmates who are unable to make bail. Although the order faced legal challenges, it was upheld last month by the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court.

"Where we're facing problems is that our jail population is increasing, and that means we're going to have more cases," said Wolff, a Democrat. "We're having terrible troubles with the state, as we do on most cases."

In recent weeks, the Bexar County Jail emerged as a local hotspot for COVID-19 infections. To date, nearly 400 inmates have tested positive for the disease, although the number now in custody has dropped to 321, Wolff said. On Tuesday, 13 of those people were being treated in the jail's infirmary.

Wolff said Bexar County now has custody of 228 inmates that ordinarily would have been transferred to Texas prisons to serve their sentences. Another 98 who were found incompetent to stand trial would normally have been sent to state mental health facilities.

What's more, the jail is holding 244 additional inmates that would have released on personal recognizance bonds, according to Wolff. Under Abbott's order, judges can't release without bail any person who's accused of or has been convicted in the past of a violent offense.

"We're getting jammed up, which means there's going to be a lot of trouble down the line," Wolff said. "If we could just get the state to meet their responsibilities, that would be a big step forward."

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