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

Tacodeli co-owners Roberto Espinosa and Eric Wilkerson opened their first location in 1999. The seventh location for the local chain in Austin will open this summer in Circle C. (Courtesy Tacodeli)
Tacodeli to open a Circle C location this summer

The new location will be the seventh in Austin for the locally based chain, which first opened in 1999.

The city of Austin's Smart Mobility Office has partnered with Ford on self-driving vehicle initiatives. (Courtesy Ford Motor Company)
Austin's transportation department paving the way for rise in autonomous vehicle traffic

Several private companies are working on autonomous vehicle initiatives in Austin in addition to the city's own smart infrastructure planning.

COVID-19 precautions such as a masking requirement remain in place at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. (Courtesy Austin-Bergstrom International Airport)
'Signs of hope' on the horizon at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport after year-plus dip in air travel

Rising passenger counts, new airline operations and an increase in vaccinations could all support the airport's recovery in 2021.

Capital Metro bus
Capital Metro announces increased transit services for Austin FC games this season

Capital Metro has increased the frequency of several bus routes for Austin FC game days at Q2 Stadium.

masks
CDC ends all mask requirements for fully vaccinated people

The guidance states fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks indoors or outdoors.

Students at Norman-Sims Elementary School and Austin ISD's 124 other schools across the district will now be allowed to remove masks during outdoor physical activities with the permission of a parent or guardian. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin ISD makes outdoor masking optional, eases other health, safety restrictions

Students engaging in outdoor physical activity will now have the option to remove masks.

House Bill 1024, signed into law May 12, allows restaurants and bars to permanently sell alcoholic beverages to-go. (Courtesy Pexels)
Cocktails to-go are here to stay in Texas: Gov. Greg Abbott signs change into law May 12

Supporters say the change will help restaurants continue to recover from the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Austin's phased process for moving people experiencing homelessness out of unregulated encampments will roll out through the summer. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
City officials detail homeless education and enforcement plan with Proposition B ordinances now in effect

The process that will eventually remove the city's homeless encampment begins this month with outreach and warnings and will stretch until late summer with full enforcement.

Residents will have until May 2023 to obtain a Real ID. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
US Department of Homeland Security extends Real ID deadline until 2023

Drivers will have until May 2023 to get the Real ID, which will be required for adults boarding a U.S. commercial flight.