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County taking steps to limit jail population during delays

Posted at 6:16 PM, Mar 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-18 20:19:57-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The Nueces County Board of Judges on Tuesday ordered most cases be put on hold for at least the next four weeks amid concerns over COVID-19.

One of those orders was so that several inmates at the county jail receive risk assessment hearings. Those hearings help determine whether or not a defendant needs to stay in jail, with most cases on hold.

“The judges are the ones who use these tools to determine whether or not someone should be in custody pending a trial,” said Nueces Co. District Attorney Mark Gonzalez.

Nueces county’s overpopulation problem at the county jail is hardly new, but with most cases on hold, judges now have the option to send someone home. Incarcerated defendants are having their cases delayed four weeks, cases for defendants out on bond have been delayed eight weeks.

“What they look at is somebody’s criminal history, their residence, family ties,” Gonzalez said.

Under the order, judges now have the option to reduce bonds, or release inmates on their own recognizance. However, judges will be careful with who gets out.

“Not everyone is going to get out of jail,” Gonzalez siad. “You have to be a non-violent offender.”

For those staying in jail, it’s going to be a lonely weekend.

“This is a very fluid process,” said Nueces Co. Sheriff J.C. Hooper. “We found out today that we do need to cancel visitation this coming weekend.”

Hooper said more than 400 visitors showed up last weekend. The county can’t properly screen those visitors, and while the inmates are protected from coronavirus inside the jail, Hooper said he’s concerned about his staff.

“Our correctional officers, the first responders that are so necessary to maintain operations at the county jail, they are susceptible,” Hooper said.

Gonzalez said he’s not sure how many inmates will qualify for risk assessments, or how many will be released. He did say he expects those hearings to start soon.

Hooper said he hopes to reinstate visitation soon. In the meantime, inmates at the jail will have more access to telephones in order to contact loved ones.