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Growing jail populace in Travis County, review finds

Monday, May 9, 2022 by Seth Smalley

The Travis County jail population is increasing, according to a recent report from Justice Planning. The uptick is largely due to increases in the number of first- and second-degree felony charges and the average length of stay for those bookings.

The jail population is currently about 2,100, up from a low of about 1,400 last year.

“You probably noticed that our jail population has been creeping up, probably since about the first of the year,” County Executive Roger Jefferies told commissioners.

Another driver of the rising jail population is a shortage in state hospital beds, leaving the county jail to shoulder the burden.

“Those are folks waiting for a hospital bed and unfortunately they have to sit in our jail until when space becomes available,” said Valerie Hollier, a project manager with Justice Planning.

The size of the jail population depends on the volume of people going in and the length of their stays, Hollier explains. “With higher-level felonies, like first- and second-degree felonies, those folks are going to stay on average longer,” she said.

According to data gathered by Justice Planning, first-degree felony bookings have been trending upward since the end of 2021 while at the same time first-degree felony releases have been trending downward.

First-degree felonies include crimes like kidnapping, aggravated robbery, murder and aggravated sexual assault.

Hollier said Justice Planning observed a 50 percent jump in the average length of stay from 2020 to 2021, but “then it goes back down.” Second-degree felonies saw a high last year of 171 days for the average length of stay, up from 125 the previous year. This year, the average dropped down to 141.

Another factor in the increased population, according to Hollier, is an increase in arrests for aggravated crime.

“One of the things (APD) did after after some of their task forces disbanded, is that they decided they would focus on arresting people with warrants for aggravated offenses,” she said. “So for instance, aggravated robbery, aggravated sexual assault … really started to increase from January to May.”

Hollier said arrests for aggravated crime have increased about 81 percent from January 2021 to March 2022.

“Again, these aggravated offenses stay longer. So that might be another thing that’s contributing to the size of our overall jail population.”

Photo by Hartmut Schmidt Heidelberg, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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