Travis County staff recommend increased capacity for planned women’s correctional facility

County commissioners discussed plans for an new women's jail at their April 23 meeting.

County commissioners discussed plans for an new women's jail at their April 23 meeting.

Travis County commissioners voted unanimously to increase capacity at a planned women's correctional facility at an April 23 meeting.

County staff requested the facility have 360 beds, an increase from the 336 beds recommended in a master plan adopted by the Commissioners Court in 2016.

Commissioners chose instead to approve 350 beds for the facility and include funding for a study on the housing needs of diversion programs, emphasizing they want to divert individuals from jail while also improving conditions for those who are incarcerated.

"We do need to treat women well, better than they've been treated in the past, if we really want to make a change in them and their future, especially when they have children who are depending on them getting better," said Commissioner Margaret Gomez, who represents Precinct 4.

Plans for a new, separate women’s facility have been ongoing in Travis County for years.

Commissioners were expected to vote on whether to issue certificates obligation for the facility in March. However, there is uncertainty about the county's ability to fund projects such as this in light of the Legislature's efforts to cap property tax revenue.

Currently, incarcerated women are housed in four buildings at the Travis County Correctional Complex in Del Valle and the Travis County Jail downtown.

Nationwide, the incarceration rate among women has increased dramatically.

Between 1980 and 2016, the number of incarcerated women increased by more than 700%, from 26,378 to 213,722, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Travis County has seen this trend, too, according to a Feb. 27 memo from Allison Fink, planning project manager for the county’s planning and budget office.

“During the past year, Travis County has made efforts to decrease the overall jail population, especially women in jail, and as of February 2019, the population of women in our jail has held steady at a decreased level for several months,” Fink wrote.

The planning and budget office made the recommendation for increased capacity under the assumption that number, makeup and length of bookings in Travis County stay constant, as do the county’s efforts to divert individuals from jail.

The additional 24 beds were all recommended for high-need populations, such as individuals with mental health issues who are preparing for release.

In an April 15 letter to commissioners, County Sheriff Sally Hernandez recommended an additional increase, to 411 beds.

“I understand the county is seeking diversion, and am very much in support of diverting those who should not be in custody, but I also believe that until we have reduced the population over a longer period we should not plan/build to a number we hope will happen,” Hernandez wrote. “We know what we’ve had over the last four years and believe that it would be short-sighted not to use these numbers, and has the potential to put us right back into the position we are currently in with female inmates spread throughout the complex.”

Local activists have been critical of the plans for a new facility, regardless of total bed count.

"Instead of investing in more jails and institutions that further criminalize and jail Black and Brown people, the money at the county's disposal should instead be diverted towards strategies that end mass incarceration, including fair and equal representation and pre-arrest diversion," said Annette Price, statewide director of Texas Advocates for Justice, a network of formerly incarcerated people, in a statement.
By Emma Freer
Emma Freer began covering Central Austin for Community Impact Newspaper in 2017. Her beat includes the Travis County Commissioners Court and local business news. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School in 2017.


MOST RECENT

A photo of fireworks exploding
Celebrate Independence Day in Southwest Austin and Dripping Springs with these events

Many Fourth of July events are canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, but some outdoor and virtual events are still on.

There have been more than 10,000 total coronavirus cases in Travis County as of July 1. (Community Impact Staff)
Travis County adds 597 new coronavirus cases July 1

There have been more than 10,000 total coronavirus cases in Travis County as of July 1.

The buildings are located at the Lantana Pass development at 7717 Southwest Parkway, Austin. (Courtesy Capella Commercial)
Construction nears completion for Lantana Pass office and retail development in Southwest Austin

A pair of retail and office buildings in Southwest Austin are close to completion as tenants prepare to move in.

The HHS campus is located at 12395 Silver Creek Road, Dripping Springs. (Courtesy HHS)
Roundup: 5 Southwest Austin businesses celebrating anniversaries in July

Proof & Cooper, Crow Bar and HHS are among those hitting milestones in Southwest Austin this month.

Money stock art
Comptroller: Texas June sales tax revenue totaled $2.7 billion, down 6.5% from a year ago

The Texas comptroller's office has released June sales tax revenue figures.

The report comes as Texas, like states across the country, puzzles through decisions on what the upcoming academic year will look like for students and staff. (Courtesy Pixabay)
Texas Education Agency: 1 in 10 students have disengaged during the pandemic

More than 600,000 Texas public school students didn't complete assignments or respond to outreach during the coronavirus pandemic.

Organizers of the Austin City Limits Music Festival announced July 1 the 2020 event will not take place. (Courtesy Charles Reagan Hackleman)
Austin City Limits Music Festival canceled for 2020

The annual festival brought more than 75,000 fans per day across two weekends last year and had a $291 million impact on the local economy.

Capital Metro announced July 1 that an employee has died after testing positive for COVID-19. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Capital Metro employee dies after testing positive for COVID-19

The employee of the public transportation agency tested positive for the virus June 18.

Austin City Hall was one of several downtown buildings to be vandalized during May's protests. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Pressure builds as Austin City Council members question city manager’s ability to bring transformational police reform

Several City Council members said without transformational changes to policing, Austin might need a new city manager.

While there are many unknowns regarding public education operations next year, one thing is for certain: Students will be required to take the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR test. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Students to be required to take STAAR test in 2020-21 school year

While there are many unknowns regarding public education operations next year, one thing is for certain: Students will be required to take the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR test.

There were 558 new coronavirus cases in Travis County on June 30. (Community Impact staff)
Travis County has seen 6,265 new coronavirus cases this month after June 30 update

There were 558 new coronavirus cases in Travis County on June 30.

A photo of a silver Cybertruck zooming through the desert
Travis County continues Tesla deliberations with no date set for vote on economic incentives

Travis County commissioners continue to gather public input and hold closed-session discussions regarding a possible local factory for the electric carmaker.