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Are Texas jails holding too many people pretrial?

Aug 26th, 2014 | Category: Montgomery County

By Emily Ling, TJP Project Coordinator

The Montgomery County jail has recently made news in for its overcrowding issues, and articles like these from Grits for Breakfast and Houston Press’ blog have rightly emphasized that a significant part of the problem is due to high rates of pretrial detention. The August 2014 population report from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards states that 73.15% of inmates being held in Montgomery County (MoCo) are considered pretrial, meaning that they have yet to be convicted of anything and are presumably innocent until proven guilty. And yet those 812 pretrial inmates in MoCo this month are still being subjected to the difficult reality of being overcrowded in a jail with questionable conditions, often simply because they and their families are not able to afford the high bail amounts issued by the court.

In recent months as the Montgomery County commissioners have grappled with the issue of overcrowding at the facility, TJP has received increasing numbers of complaints from MoCo inmates about inedible food, issues with water at times being undrinkable, and most of all, lack of sufficient medical care.

The issue of incarcerating large numbers of people who have not been convicted is by no means unique to Montgomery County. Drawing from the TCJS population report from May 2014, TJP has identified the following 75 counties as having the highest rates of pretrial detainees in Texas. Of course some of the highest rates occur in very small counties where only a handful of inmates are housed, but many large and mid-sized counties also have alarmingly high rates of pretrial inmates – and anecdotal evidence from TJP’s intake of complaints suggests that at least some of those folks are spending many months and sometimes years waiting for their cases to be settled. The effects on their lives and the lives of their families are devastating.

These findings raise many questions about why so many people are being incarcerated in Texas without a finding of guilt — because court systems are so clogged with cases? Because counties are pursuing high arrest rates? The public should be asking those questions more loudly since we’re footing the bill for all of these inmates, and here at the Texas Jail Project we’re eager to hear from you if you or your loved one has experience in any of these high pretrial jails:

Hansford 100.00% 7
Briscoe 100.00% 6
Culberson 100.00% 5
Stonewall 100.00% 5
Terrell 100.00% 3
Lipscomb 100.00% 1
Karnes 96.30% 27
Marion 93.75% 32
Ochiltree 93.75% 16
Hockley 93.33% 60
Andrews 92.59% 36
Lamb 91.49% 47
Hamilton 90.48% 21
Brazoria 87.73% 701
Reagan 87.50% 8
Wharton 87.41% 143
Nacogdoches 86.36% 242
Llano 85.71% 49
Kimble 85.71% 14
Erath 85.26% 95
Cass 83.65% 104
Jack 83.33% 24
Cochran 83.33% 6
Hopkins 83.13% 83
Lavaca 81.25% 32
Hardin 80.14% 141
Van Zandt 80.11% 181
Shelby 80.00% 40
Jones 80.00% 25
Glasscock 80.00% 5
Gillespie 78.95% 38
Anderson 78.33% 180
Coryell 78.31% 83
La Salle 78.26% 23
Crosby 77.78% 9
Eastland 77.46% 71
Medina 77.27% 66
Rockwall 76.89% 212
Stephens 76.74% 43
Young 76.54% 81
Duval 75.61% 41
Navarro 75.57% 176
Wheeler 75.00% 16
Sabine 75.00% 12
Kendall 74.51% 51
Midland 74.33% 374
Maverick 74.29% 70
Leon 74.29% 35
Polk 74.05% 158
Comal 73.56% 261
Cooke 73.49% 166
Montgomery 73.47% 1097
Camp 73.33% 30
Chambers 72.73% 121
Trinity 72.73% 22
San Saba 72.73% 11
Swisher 72.73% 11
Dallas 72.68% 6252
Gray 72.55% 51
Upshur 72.04% 93
Gaines 72.00% 50
Palo Pinto 71.93% 114
Moore 71.88% 32
Bell 71.78% 698
Travis 71.61% 2325
Morris 71.43% 28
Callahan 71.43% 14
Waller 71.05% 76
Brooks 70.97% 31
Kerr 70.95% 148
Angelina 70.89% 213
Fannin 2 (P) 70.79% 89
Ector 70.70% 604
Grayson 70.60% 381
Castro 70.59% 17




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7 years ago

Are there places in the US or even outside the US that deal with pretrial more effectively? Can we compare these stats and find out where pretrial is more effective? I think it would be a good idea to look at the way pre trial is done around the world to see which systems are more effective, both socially and economically speaking, so that we may propose reforms to this system.

6 years ago

I think that Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland, gave a very good example of what can be done even in large cities. They also have a sobering center, which keeps individuals out of the jail entirely. According to their website, they only transfer to Harris County if offense is above Class B misdemeanor or above. In a city as large as Houston; that is a lot of inmates who never make it to county. Meaning most of the mentally ill will remain there, since their charges tend to be for lesser charges. They are working with the following group to improve mental illness.

CSG Justice Center Announces Six Law Enforcement Agencies Become National
“Learning Sites” on Improving Responses to People with Mental Illnesses

Selected were the Houston(TX) Police Department, Los Angeles (CA) Police Department, Madison (WI) Police Department, Portland (ME) Police Department, Salt Lake City (UT) Police Department, and University of Florida Police Department.

Harris County and Montgomery County have been sending inmates to other jails, to avoid over crowding. Instead of closing the following three TDCJ sites, maybe they need to reopen Dallas and Ft Bend as MHMR holding with trained MHMR medical staff. Of course medication and counseling would be a requirement. Inmates who have already been sentenced to jail only, could be held there also in case of over crowding instead of sending them to other counties or out of state, where they would not get adequate treatment.

I know that would take a lot of work on Criminal Justice Committee, Counties, and TDCJ but people are dying.

This was in TDCJ newsletter in 2013.
With the contracts for Dawson State Jail in Dallas and the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility expiring on August 31, three TDCJ correctional facilities have been closed since the implementation of Legislative reforms aimed at decreasing the number of nonviolent offenders incarcerated in TDCJ. In 2012, for the first time in history, the state of Texas closed a correctional facility, the Central Unit in Ft. Bend County near Houston. Central’s age and encroaching residential and commercial development made it the initial candidate for closure. Offenders housed at Central, along with much of the unit staff, were transferred to other TDCJ facilities.

7 years ago

What is the average wait time that people are held in jail until they receive their court decision? If someone has spent 6 month on pretrial…. waiting for a court decision… is this normal?