CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The Nueces County Commissioners Court has approved some much needed help for the county jail.
Subject to some language change, they passed two memorandum of understandings (MOU) to transfer inmates to Aransas and Victoria counties. The language that needs to be adjusted involves the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on overcrowding the jail.
Nueces County was recently deemed non-compliant by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. Nueces County Sheriff J.C. Hooper told commissioners court during the state inspection, the jail was at 100 percent capacity.
"At one point it’s gotten to 103 percent," he said.
As of Wednesday, capacity is at 98 percent. County Judge Barbara Canales said she got notice July 1 that the county has 30 days to rectify the situation.
“Thank you for getting this accomplished, but it’s not in our best interest to not think of other ideas and other plans," she said. "This is just as they say the immediate need. And we have to have these in place so that we can have options.”
The MOU with Aransas County will cost $60 for booking and the first day up to six hours. Then it’s $74 a day per inmate. Nueces County will transport inmates, but if Aransas County is needed it will cost $19 per man/hour.
For Victoria County, Nueces County will pay $60 a day to house an inmate. Again, Nueces County will transport inmates, but there will be a cost if Victoria County is called upon.
In both cases, Nueces County would foot the bill for a medical emergency for one of their transferred inmates that is outside basic health care.
“The unofficial possibilities are increments of 20," said Hooper. "So, we could move 20 to Aransas County and 20 to Victoria County. That would be 40 inmates that would be carefully selected and of course it would have to be agreed upon that these are the type of inmates that they would accept. And it would be an open ended deal. We could end it in a month if something magical were to happen here in Nueces County to bring our numbers down.”
Hooper said inmates are assessed on several factors like the crime they’re accused of, past convictions, likeliness to be violent or a victim in jail, medical needs and gang affiliation.
For the county to house 40 inmates in these counties it will cost roughly $80,000 a month.
Hooper has been adamant the issue stems from the slow progress of criminal trials.
“And the most significant thing to be done is for the courts to start moving again, hearing some cases," said the sheriff. "When they start hearing some cases whether it’s in front of a judge or in front of a jury, other inmates will plea. And we’ve known this to be true. We’ve had—we’ve called jury pools here the last couple of weeks and all of a sudden the inmate will enter into an agreement, will make a plea deal knowing that the jury has been called.”
“And COVID-19 is definitely the culprit, but make no mistake we’ve been having high population in the summer months on a historic basis, for different reasons," Canales said. "This particular high population during these summer months and as you said sheriff, over the last six months, is directly a result of the backlog of the court.”
This is an issue across Texas. According to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, as of June 1 almost 100 Texas counties are housing at least one inmate outside their county. Notably, Hidalgo County is housing nearly 400 inmates elsewhere.
Hooper said there 160 more inmates awaiting felony trial than there were last year at this time.
He added a majority of inmates are being held for alleged violent crimes. Ninety of them are suspected of murder with 24 people accused of murder already having bonded out. Hooper said the district attorney dropping charges or bonding out some accused of violence isn’t an option.
Canales said she will meet with judges to see what steps can be taken to create a long term plan. One that isn’t so costly for the county.
There is no timetable on when inmates might start to be transported.