Travis County postpones decision on new women's jail

Photo of a sign thta says Travis County outside a building
Travis County commissioners voted to postpone votes related to a potential new women's jail facility for one week. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

Travis County commissioners voted to postpone votes related to a potential new women's jail facility for one week. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

Travis County commissioners on June 8 postponed a high-profile vote on a design contract representing a step towards the construction of a new women's jail east of Austin.

Located in Del Valle, the $80 million Travis County Trauma Informed Women's Facility has been planned since 2016 as a project of the county's 20-year Master Plan to replace and update aging facilities. The women's jail would be the first of its kind in Travis County, and would consolidate female inmates to a single facility since incarcerated women are spread between four facilities, all shared with men.

Some local activists have criticized the plan for using outdated numbers to justify new facilities; since 2016, the local jail population has receded by a little less than 50%. A coalition of 95 local leaders and civil rights organizations signed a letter asking commissioners to reconsider the new jail and the overall Master Plan in favor of a new "Justice Reinvestment Plan" led by community representatives with an emphasis on incarceration diversion efforts.

A vote to offer a $4.3 million design contract for the facility to HDR Architecture, Inc. was scheduled for the commissioners' June 8 meeting. Also on the agenda was a resolution sponsored by county Judge Andy Brown and Commissioner Ann Howard to overhaul the Master Plan and convene a "working group to reduce the number of women in jail."

However, Brown requested to postpone both votes for one week until the court's June 15 session because of a procedural issue related to the resolution's late addition to the agenda. The motion to postpone passed 3-1-1, with Howard and Margaret Gomez joining Brown in favor, Brigid Shea voting against, and Jeff Travillion abstaining.

"I don't think this is going to change in a week ... so I'm not going to support a further delay," Shea said. "I think there's unfortunately been a tremendous amount of misinformation and frankly offensive statements made about how Travis County has been conducting itself. We do not engage in mass incarceration. We have consistently altered our practices to try and reduce the people going into our jail system and instead find ways to support them, and we will continue to do that."

Shea also said that maintaining jail facilities to an acceptable standard was a state-mandated requirement of the county, and that Travis County's correctional complex was overdue for facility and program updates.

"I just want to say for the record that nobody likes jails. I don't like jails. Who likes having to spend our money on it?" she said. "But at the end of the day, we have an unpleasant and unpopular responsibility to maintain the jails."

Following the meeting, Brown reiterated his position against the new correctional facility in a series of tweets.

"Our community needs health care and more support services, not this new jail. ... Let's build a better county where women get the health care they need & we help working class families by investing in the community," he wrote.

Editor's note: This story was updated June 10 to clarify that the vote originally scheduled for June 8 was to approve a design contract for a potential women's jail, not to approve the project as a whole.
By Olivia Aldridge
Olivia is the reporter for Community Impact's Central Austin edition. A graduate of Presbyterian College in upstate South Carolina, Olivia was a reporter and producer at South Carolina Public Radio before joining Community Impact in Austin.


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