Travis County commissioners receive update on jail population, bond program amid scrutiny

The Travis County jail population hit a 10-year population low in 2018, at 2,221 individuals.

The Travis County jail population hit a 10-year population low in 2018, at 2,221 individuals.

Following scrutiny of Travis County’s bond system, members of the jail population monitoring group told commissioners public data does not accurately reflect who is in custody.

“If you just look at who’s in the jail and don’t consider the people coming and going, you’re not really getting a good idea of what our personal bond release program looks like,” said Meg Ledyard, a member of the group and a business analyst for criminal courts administrations.

The scrutiny stems from reform efforts in Harris County, where a lawsuit alleging cash bail unconstitutionally discriminates against the poor has resulted in a tentative settlement to provide automatic release for 85% of local defendants charged with misdemeanors.

Travis County Attorney David Escamilla told commissioners at an Oct. 29 meeting that Harris County and Travis County are different.

“There’s been a great deal of misconception, misinformation that’s been passed around,” Escamilla said. “And we thought it was important for us to know … who is in our jail and why.”

When a defendant in Travis County is released on a personal bond, he or she swears to return to court and comply with the conditions of his or her release. While there is no bond payment, there is an administrative fee.

Only an attorney or pretrial services staff can request release on a personal bond, which must be approved by a judge.

Although recent reporting states 75% of the Travis County jail population is pretrial—not yet released on bond or convicted of a charge—members of the jail population monitoring group contest this number.

“Publicly available data is not designed to answer this question,” said Valeria Hollier, a member of the group and a planning project manager in the county’s justice planning department.

Once additional factors are taken into consideration, including holds—such as in cases where a witness feels unsafe or the individual poses a threat to himself or herself—that make one ineligible for a personal bond, the portion of the jail population considered “pretrial” drops to around 50%, Ledyard said.

“The good news is that we don’t have a system where [bond] is set according to a schedule and the individual circumstances are not taken into account,” Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said.

Advocates for criminal justice reform acknowledged Travis County’s record for progressive pretrial policies while pushing for further improvements.

“It’s the case that this county has been a leader and still is far better than many places in Texas, but it’s also the case that some of the places that were behind us for a long time are now being sued,” said Chris Harris, a data and policy analyst for the local nonprofit Just Liberty. “And the results of those lawsuits are pointing towards things that we are not yet doing that could make our county better.”

According to the monitoring group’s presentation, in 2018 71% of individuals eligible for release on a personal bond received one. This portion could be increased, Harris said, and those who are released could be let out of jail sooner, reducing the chances that a defendant misses work or child care obligations.

Other advocates urged commissioners to consider making additional changes to the county’s pretrial services process.

“The role of money bail continues to pose a problem in the county,” said Mary Mergler, an attorney with the local nonprofit Texas Appleseed. “There continues to be people who are in the Travis County jail who are there for no other reason than their ability to pay bail.”
SHARE THIS STORY
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

The Violet Crown Trail will be built through the city of Sunset Valley. (Source: City of Austin/Community Impact Newspaper)
Next Violet Crown Trail section to break ground this summer

Work on a new portion of the Violet Crown Trail connecting the Sunset Valley trail section to the section at William Cannon Drive will begin this summer.

A photo of a group of women huddled together in yellow and blue fitness gear.
Lighthouse Community Wellness fitness studio open in Southwest Austin

A new women's fitness center is bringing classes and workshops to the Oak Hill area.

Dripping Springs has received two grants from the Texas Department of Transportation to complete sidewalk improvements projects. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Dripping Springs receives $2.8 million in TxDOT grants for local sidewalk projects

Projects will include work along Rob Shelton Boulevard and that will connect Dripping Springs Middle and High schools.

A photo of the Dripping Springs ISD board of trustees
Dripping Springs ISD presents on growth, debt ahead of regular board meeting

Dripping Springs ISD ranks 14th for debt among comparable districts.

Early voting for the March 3 primary elections began Feb. 18. (Community Impact Newspaper)
Southwest Austin 2020 Primary Election Guide

Find out which candidates will be on Southwest Austin ballots.

State Sen. Kirk Watson announced his resignation from state government Feb. 18. A number of local politicians have expressed interest in the seat.
Who is interested in Kirk Watson’s Senate seat? Here is where local members of the state House stand

State Reps. Gina Hinojosa and Eddie Rodriguez say they are "seriously considering" a run for the District 14 seat.

Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz addresses the media on Feb. 20 after announcing plans to resign.
Outgoing Superintendent Paul Cruz says 'work will continue' in Austin ISD as transition plan is developed

A timeline for Cruz's departure has not yet been established by Austin ISD.

Austin taps downtown homeless shelter operator to expand permanent supportive housing program

Experts hold up permanent supportive housing as crucial to ending chronic homelessness.

Gold's Gym now open on South Congress near Slaughter Lane

Gold's Gym opened its new South Austin location in late January.

Dimassi’s Mediterranean Buffet now open on Stassney Lane

The Texas restaurant chain offers a lunch and dinner buffet.

54th Street Grill is expected to open a South Austin location in 2021. (Courtesy 54th Street Grill)
54th Street Grill planning South Austin location

54th Street Grill will open a South Austin location in 2021.

Back to top