CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — In a post on the Nueces County Sheriff's Office's Facebook page Monday, Sheriff John Hooper said the county's jail system is starting the week at 99-percent capacity, and that the county's courts need to process more cases to help bring that figure down.
"The court system here in Nueces County needs to get moving again in a very aggressive manner to fix this critical problem," the post read.
When asked about the situation in an interview Monday afternoon, Hooper said the jail population nearing capacity poses problems.
“When we get up to 99-percent, it makes the housing placement of inmates extremely challenging," he said.
He's concerned the overcrowding could lead to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards finding the Nueces County Jail non-compliant in a report due out in the next two weeks.
Hooper also points out that there are 84 murder suspects in his jail that haven't seen their day in court.
"That’s a lot of victims, and that’s a lot of family members of victims that deserve closure," he said. "And we’ve got to bring these cases before juries or get them heard in front of a judge."
Over at the courthouse, the reaction to the sheriff's call for more trials was one of understanding.
“It sounds like the sheriff is frustrated," 214th District Court Judge Inna Klein said. "I think that if I were in his shoes I would be frustrated too.”
Klein is also the out-going administrative judge for all Nueces County courts.
She created the current policy for jury trials during the COVID-19 pandemic after consulting with her colleagues at the courthouse and reviewing orders from Governor Greg Abbott and the United States Supreme Court.
Currently, only one trial can take place per floor of the courthouse, and there are four courts per floor.
"The schedule allows for one court to have priority to go to trial, and then the next week another court does this," Klein said. "So it’s definitely — there’s a bottleneck."
When another judge becomes Nueces County's administrative judge in eight days, it's unclear if the trial policy will change.
Klein says it could just be a matter of time.
“I’m hoping that perhaps as people get more vaccinated, I’m hoping that as people understand that COVID is getting under control, we’ll be in a batter place,” she said.
In the meantime, Hooper is looking into another way to bring down the jail population, but it will likely cost the county between 60 and 80-dollars per day, per inmate.
“There is the possibility of moving inmates to other jail facilities, and that’s something we are exploring,” he said.