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Court delays action on new women’s unit at county jail

Wednesday, February 28, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard

The Travis County Commissioners Court postponed a vote on Tuesday to release $6.6 million in certificates of obligation that would partially fund a brand-new facility for female inmates at the county jail complex in Del Valle. County Judge Sarah Eckhardt’s decision to delay the action came after activists showed up to oppose the plans, which have changed to include more capacity than previously expected. Originally, the new facility was slated to contain 336 beds. That number has since grown to 411. Senior planner Mark Gilbert explained the new number is based on recent modeling that showed the share of female inmates increasing, even as the total jail population is expected to remain relatively stable. Currently, women’s housing and other programs are spread across four different buildings at the Del Valle campus. The new facility, whose total price tag stands at $97 million, would bring all of that under one roof. “This is not about quantity, this is about quality, and it’s about helping women get the programs and the support and the medical needs that they need,” Sheriff Sally Hernandez told the court. But citing statistics that show crime rates largely trending downward, Doug Jones of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition asserted that the court should prioritize diversion programs over increasing jail capacity. “What we are looking for is not a new jail facility,” he said. “We’re looking for a commitment to seriously reducing the rate of incarceration inside this safe county.” Eckhardt said she would bring the decision back before the court next week, along with other related considerations that she pledged will make up a “multipronged approach” to the issue.

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