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County votes to decommission 48 jail beds

Tuesday, October 19, 2021 by Seth Smalley

Travis County commissioners unanimously approved a resolution on Oct. 12 to decommission and remove 48 beds from Building 250 in the Travis County Correctional Complex in Del Valle. The building will continue to exist and be operated by the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, but will no longer house pre-release inmates from a state program.

The CC Baker building, County Sheriff Sally Hernandez explained, was constructed in 1989 to house minimum security “inmate workers.” In 2010, it transitioned to house pre-release parolees while they found jobs and permanent housing. But due to staffing issues, the sheriff’s office asked the state either to contribute more funding or find a long-term alternative for housing the pre-release parolees. The state did neither, so the sheriff’s office is now opting to decommission the 48 beds that state pre-parolees sleep in.

“In 2017, when I took office, we reached out to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to request an increase in the per-day rate for housing these individuals to cover the costs associated with keeping the building open only for this purpose,” Hernandez told commissioners. “This summer, when TDCJ approached us to renew the agreement, we declined due to the fact that staffing the building required overtime shoes and maintaining the agreement would continue to cost the county, supporting a state program.”

County Judge Andy Brown, noting the challenges with transitioning inmates, asked whether decommissioning the beds would affect the sheriff’s ability to move incarcerated people around.

“And you mentioned jail numbers are going up – is there any scenario that we would need these 48 beds?” Brown asked.

According to Hernandez, because of the official classification of the beds in Building 250, they wouldn’t help with moving inmates. Hernandez additionally maintained that the Sheriff’s Office has no future plans to use the building to house inmates.

On May 12, the county jail population was 1,420; as of Oct. 12, it’s up 24 percent to 1,765. Hernandez also noted that the women’s population has risen 38 percent since May, from 152 to 211. (The number of women inmates is of particular interest this year, as it’s being used as a central justification in the debate over an $80 million proposed expansion to the women’s jail.)

Commissioner Jeffrey Travillion, concerned about where pre-parolees would go without the program, asked about the average occupancy of the 48 beds each night.

“If not here, where do they go?” Travillion said. “If we don’t have a program that leads us to housing somewhere, are we adding to the homeless population?”

Hernandez responded that this action will put the responsibility for finding a location to house the inmates back on the state, emphasizing that the inmates in question belong to a state program.

“They will still be free parolee release, but they’ve got to find another location other than the sheriff’s office to keep them. As of August, we’ve really only had four people in that building,” she said.

Commissioner Brigid Shea questioned the 24 percent increase in jail population since May.

“If my math is right, that’s an additional 325 inmates” in county jail, Shea said, adding, “So if there’s an analysis ready to discuss it, I would like that information.”

Editor’s Note: Andy Brown is on the board of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, the parent nonprofit of the Austin Monitor.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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