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Some Travis Co. Jail inmates could get released early due to COVID-19

File image of the Travis County Jail. (CBS Austin)
File image of the Travis County Jail. (CBS Austin)
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The coronavirus pandemic continues to impact almost every part of life as we know it—including the criminal justice system.

The Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals have issued an emergency order delaying all jury trials until at least May 8th.

The order encourages courtrooms to utilize teleconferencing whenever possible.

Right now in Travis County, special case settings arranged by the parties, emergency hearings, mental health hearings, protective orders, will continue.

“I’ve never seen us just completely have to shut down as much court operation as we’ve shut down and still get our job done,” says Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore.

DA Moore says court officials have also been working to reduce the jail population in order to mitigate risks of an outbreak.

Currently, bond hearings for non-violent cases (low level drug cases, thefts, and credit card abuse) are being expedited and accused criminals sent home.

Moore says prosecutors and judges are also reviewing felony jail cases—examining the inmate’s offense and criminal history before letting some out early.

“Some people we think are appropriately in jail and others we think can be released with certain conditions so we’re looking at putting GPS monitoring,” says Moore.

Defense Attorney Eric Harron with the Law Office of Eric Harron says the changes have impacted several of his clients.

One man with an immigration hold will have to remain in jail until he receives another trial date— sometime in the future.

“Effectively peoples’ due process rights are suspended during this crisis,” says Harron.

Currently most county jails and all state-run prisons have banned visitors for the foreseeable future.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, in charge of all state prisons, has established new protocols to assess employees or new inmates entering facilities.

Crews are also intensifying prison cleaning efforts to try and prevent an outbreak.

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Currently, there have been no reported coronavirus cases in any jail or prison facilities in Texas.

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