Unjustifiable, inhumane jail transfers could be solved by reducing pretrial detention
Hays County Commissioners Court agreed on Aug 16 to spend $3.65 million a year for the next four years to transfer people incarcerated at our jail to the Haskell County Jail in North Texas some 4.5 hours away. Haskell County Jail is a private facility owned by LaSalle Corrections West — a subsidiary of LaSalle Corrections who has been embroiled in lawsuits since its inception.
On Sept. 2, Hays County Jail Advocates received reports from people incarcerated in Hays’ jail about a transfer that took place. Several transfers have occurred since that date. The September 2nd transfer, we were told, involved jail staff waking people with pepperball guns pointed in their faces, that staff then told detainees to face the wall, then proceeded to handcuff and pull people from their cells to be taken to be transferred to Haskell County. According to these reports, men were not given enough time to get dressed and some of them were taken away in boxers. These men’s belongings were thrown into trash bags, leaving us worried that some men’s property may be lost in transit, given the sloppy and hurried nature of the proceedings. We are deeply concerned about these reports. Higher-ups at the jail say the transfer went “as smoothly as possible.” We should all be deeply concerned that such dehumanizing treatment is okay in the eyes of our sheriff’s office.
Commissioners Court justifies our constant hauling off of people because the jail is “overcrowded.” There have been, however, no true efforts made to reduce the amount of people being held pretrial, no efforts to reduce bond amounts to allow people to fight their case at home, and no efforts to hold judges accountable for slow-moving cases, or prosecutors accountable for refusing to dismiss meritless cases. On top of this reality is the fact that the jail was expanded in 2021, at a cost of about $57.5 million. Instead of finding alternatives to incarceration, or attempting to solve the root causes of crime, Hays County consistently invests more money in incarceration, and our District Attorney insists on relying on baseless charges all in an effort to appear tough on crime. Our constant investment in incarceration is ruining the lives of our community members who sit in jail for years before ever going to trial, and costing our county millions.
Cyrus Gray III and DeVonte “DJ” Amerson have been incarcerated in Hays County Jail since March 2018 for a murder charge the DA’s office has no evidence to support. Cyrus finally had a trial in July which resulted in a mistrial. Instead of dropping the case, the DA’s office has moved for a new trial. Lamount Harvey has been in Hays County Jail for five years charged under the law of parties — a law that allows a person to be convicted for murder without ever pulling the trigger, for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Joey Vargas has been in Hays County Jail for seven years without a conviction. After a botched investigation and the revelation that the State was relying on an informant that didn’t exist, several people charged with Joey were released. Still, the DA’s office refuses to let Joey go. Lamount and Joey have no trial date in sight.
Cyrus, DJ, Lamount, and Joey will never get the years Hays County took from them, and their stories are not unique.
Muñoz is the co-founder of Mano Amiga.