AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Several criminal justice reform groups are objecting to one of Governor Greg Abbott’s executive orders issued on Sunday.
The mandate, Abbott said, is to prevent the release of “dangerous criminals” from Texas jails.
“Releasing dangerous criminals makes the state even less safe, that also complicates and slows our ability to respond to the disaster,” Abbott said Sunday.
Specifically, the order bans suspects accused of, or previously convicted of, violent crimes from being released on a personal bond.
Texas Fair Defense Project executive director Amanda Woog said the governor’s order is too broad, in part because it applies to suspects who have not been convicted yet.
“You’re not only looking at what they’ve been charged with, which again, is unproven, but you’re also looking at the criminal history of these people so someone can be brought in on a criminal trespass, who had a terroristic threat conviction 30 years ago,” Woog explained.
Woog also added that the order unfairly targets poor suspects, because those with cash can still bond out.
“It’s saying that you cannot use personal bonds for this category of offenses, which is kind of vaguely referred to in the order, but all that means is that people who don’t have money stay in jail, whereas people who do have money are able to get out,” Woog said, “It’s really an attack on the movement to get poor people the same legal rights to release as people with money.”
Woog said local jurisdictions are trying to avert a public health crisis, all while managing public safety, and should be left alone to decide the best way to protect their community.
“If that means releasing people who have not been convicted of a crime, who have been convicted, or who have been charged with a low-level offense, then they absolutely should be doing this,” Woog added.
The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition was also among the opposition.
In a statement released on Monday, the group said in part, “The executive order guarantees a public health emergency inside jails, and it also increases the risk to the general public as people complete their sentences and are released back to the community carrying the virus.”
At the end of the statement, TCJC requested the governor rescind his order, and, “…immediately direct county officials to reduce their jail populations as safely and as quickly as possible.”
Abbott did say on Sunday that he and health officials are working on solutions for an outbreak in a Texas jail.
“We want to reduce and contain COVID-19 in jails and prisons for the benefit of both the inmates as well as the law enforcement officers the employees and the staff of those facilities. We’ve already worked with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on solutions that we will work with all local authorities on solutions,” Abbott explained.
However, he reiterated those solutions will not include the release of dangerous criminals.
The order comes at a time when an inmate battle was already playing out in Harris County.
According to the Houston Chronicle, a judge wanted to release thousands of felony arrestees on personal bonds because of warnings from health officials of what a jail outbreak would look like.
But Attorney General Ken Paxton filed an intervention to prevent that on Sunday, and said on Twitter, “The release of thousands of arrestees justly held for felony crimes would directly endanger the public, and my office will not stand for any action that threatens the health and safety of law-abiding citizens.”