Female inmates in Travis County correctional facilities still lack appropriate housing

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Travis County initiated a review of facilities within the county’s correctional system four years ago. Appropriate female inmate housing is still a priority need, Sheriff Sally Hernandez said.

“We in Travis County should be the frontrunners on model female facilities,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez, alongside a committee appointed in March to refine the vision for a new women’s correctional facility, briefed county commissioners on their progress Dec. 11.

Female inmates are currently scattered across four buildings at the Travis County Correctional Complex in Del Valle and the Travis County Jail downtown.

“We’re talking about buildings that were built originally for men,” Hernandez said. “It’s not efficient. It’s not safe for the women inmates. It’s time to make a change.”

The conversation about a new women’s correctional facility has been ongoing in Travis County for years. Overall goals for a separate women’s facility include safer, more humane living conditions that can lead to quicker and more successful re-entry to the community, the committee members said in their presentation.

TIMELINE: Reforming female inmate housing in Travis County’s correctional facilities

Spring 2014: Travis County contracts Carter Goble Lee Associates, Broaddus Planning and other consultants to review the adult housing facilities and operations within the county’s correctional system.

Fall 2014: Based on consultant recommendations, county commissioners adopt a $620 million plan to overhaul county correctional facilities. Two efforts are prioritized: building new, more adequate housing for female inmates—to the tune of $97 million—and replacing the jail facility downtown.

Spring 2018: As county officials discuss plans for the women’s facility, community members and advocates urge decision makers to spend money on diversion programs and mental health services rather than improving and expanding correctional facilities.

Spring 2018: Commissioners weigh options for financing $6.2 million in design and preconstruction of the women’s facility. County budget staff recommended certificates of obligation—long-term debt that does not need voter approval—for the first installment of the $97 million facility.

March 2018: After receiving community feedback, commissioners, with a 3-1 vote, delay the women’s facility design and preconstruction by a year.

March 2018: Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez appoints a six-member advisory committee to refine the vision for the women’s correctional facility.

March-December 2018: The advisory committee leads focus groups with women incarcerated in the county jail and complete research on best practices for minimizing harm to and achieving better outcomes for women inmates.

On the horizon: Commissioners are expected to vote on whether to issue certificates of obligation for a women’s facility in March 2019.

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Taylor Jackson Buchanan
Taylor Jackson Buchanan is the Senior Reporter for Southwest Austin. She covers local transportation, development, education, healthcare and Travis County Commissioners Court. She has a bachelor's and master's degree from The University of Texas and has been with Community Impact Newspaper since May 2018.
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