County releases inmates to prevent coronavirus spread
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that inmates who have been issued a personal recognizance bond, constitutionally, have to be released regardless of health status.
An estimated 100 inmates will be released from Hays County Jail to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the jail and in the community.
The less time spent inside the closely-confined jail by anyone, arrestees or law enforcement employees, the less likely it is that anyone might contract and spread COVID-19 outside the jail. The county aims to reduce the population as much as possible during the disaster declaration.
This measure follows an order from March 18 cancelling all District Court proceedings and another order urging officers to use cite and release policies as much as possible for low level, nonviolent crimes. As a result of canceled court proceedings, the time taken to resolve a pending case will be increased.
With a few exceptions, arrestees are constitutionally entitled to be bonded and released on reasonable bail. Within 24-48 hours of most arrests, bonds are set and can be posted at any time. Due to increased time to resolve a case, Hays County will hear all civil and criminal cases that are able to be resolved by pleas and sentencing as soon as possible.
Members of the Hays County Adult Community Supervision Department are screening the jail roster to identify arrestees that may pose relatively lesser degrees of risk to the population. District Judges will review the cases and consider for potential release if the case cannot be resolved reasonably quick.
“The risk assessment presented to the Judge provides them the defendant’s failure to appear risk, new criminal activity risk, and new violent criminal activity risk. The judges also look at the circumstance of the arrest, for example if there is a victim involved as a condition of the release the defendant will have to avoid all contact with the victim,” said Jason Facundo, pre-trial bond officer.
The risk assessment is completed through the Pretrial Risk Assessment Information System (PRAISTX), a web application developed by the Office of Court Administration (OCA) to support the use of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation’s Public Safety Assessment (PSA™), said Michael Hartman, CSCD director.
“The PSA is a pretrial risk assessment that provides judges with reliable and neutral information about defendants to inform pretrial release decisions," Hartman said. "The PSA will also flag defendants who present an elevated risk of committing a violent crime if released before trial.”
The level of the offense does not directly contribute to the risks, according to Hartman.
District Judges will do required due diligence based upon historical risk factors and legal requirements.
There is no deadline set for the releases but they are expected to happen within the week. Between 85 and 90 inmates had been released as of Wednesday.
Inmates are being screened daily for flu-like symptoms as protocol. Currently no inmates are exhibiting symptoms. Once an inmate is issued a personal recognizance bond, constitutionally, they have to be released regardless of health status.
The Hays County Sheriff's Office has already implemented measures to screen arrestees prior to entering the jail to protect inmates, Hays County law enforcement employees and visitors.