AUSTIN (KXAN) — As some jails work to lower their population and fight the spread of COVID-19 inside, state prison facilities have stopped taking inmates from county jails.
“Correctional facilities across the country find themselves in a similar situation in which they are battling a faceless enemy that does not discriminate between jurisdictions,” Texas Department of Criminal Justice Executive Director Bryan Collier said in a letter to county sheriffs on Saturday.
He went on, “Halting the intake of new inmates will allow the TDCJ to fight this virus without further exposing both county and state inmates.”
The new policy went into effect on Monday. The letter states they intend to begin taking jail inmates “when the situation stabilizes, and it is safe to do so.”
In the letter, Collier also said they understand the move will put a “strain” on some jails.
Several Central Texas counties have made efforts over the last few weeks to reduce their jail populations. In Travis County, officials have suspended arrest warrants and issued more personal bonds for certain non-violent crimes.
A spokesperson for the Travis County Sheriff’s Office said the TDCJ’s change in policy will not “put a heavy burden” on them “at all.”
The spokesperson said, “Most of the inmates who we transfer to TDCJ are being transferred because they went to trial and received a prison sentence. That’s not something that happens on a daily basis. Our jail population is so low that it’s not difficult for us to continue to house those inmates. We’re all working together to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
As of Tuesday, the Travis County jail population had dropped to 1,642 inmates. Their facilities can house more than 2,500 inmates.
TCSO reported nine inmates have been tested. Six tests came back negative, and they are waiting on the results of the rest.
Meanwhile in state prisons, Collier said their agency had implemented a “multitude” of policies and preventative measures to respond to the pandemic, including staying in touch with the Centers for Disease Control and several Texas agencies.
“Despite these robust efforts, the virus has entered the TDCJ system,” he said.
In the letter, TDCJ reports the number of confirmed cases goes up each day.
According to the TDCJ website on Tuesday, 236 inmates have tested positive. 97 TDCJ employees, medical professionals or contractors have tested positive. Meanwhile, 298 inmates are isolated for medical reasons.
TDCJ also tracks the number of inmates on “medical restriction,” meaning anyone who may have been exposed to a communicable disease and may not know it. According to their website, they may also “have the disease but do not show symptoms.” 10,635 Texas inmates are on medical restriction.
You can look through their full set of data, including which facilities are affected.