Travis County Commissioners delay women's jail expansion in 3-1 vote

Over 20 county residents gave testimony March 6 opposing the construction of a new women's facility.

Over 20 county residents gave testimony March 6 opposing the construction of a new women's facility.

Commissioners removed $6.2 million from its 2018 debt issuance Tuesday that would have been dedicated to the design and pre-construction of a new women’s correctional facility in Del Valle.

“I am disappointed,” Sheriff Sally Hernandez said. “I think we owe the human population a quality facility but we will continue doing what we do and taking care of the inmates with what we have.”

Hernandez proposed the idea for a new 400-bed women’s facility during the county’s budget season in an effort to provide new and more appropriate housing and services for female inmates.

In a Feb. 27 meeting, Hernandez said that the current housing facilities do not adequately address the needs and services for the female population and that women are currently housed in five separate facilities—four in Del Valle and one in downtown Austin, which also contributes to the challenges of providing appropriate services to women.

“We have female inmates in five different locations,” Hernandez said. “Having them in different locations like this is not safe for the inmates or the officers. That risk can be avoided if we house them in one building.”

Hernandez said over 30 law enforcement agencies book people into the Travis County jail on a regular basis. She added that the jail population has seen increasing numbers with medical and mental health conditions, and with greater acuity than in the past. With a new facility, Hernandez and her staff are hoping to address those needs.

Members of the community, however, felt that $6.2 million should be used for mental health services and diversion programs. Over 20 Travis County residents and local criminal justice leaders gave testimony Tuesday afternoon on the topic.

Criminal Justice Program Director with Grassroots Leadership Holly Kirby urged commissioners to halt the construction on the women’s facility asking that more research be done in creating and improving diversion programs and reducing the jail population.

“You have the power right now to show all of us and the rest of Travis County that you are committed to doing something about the mass incarceration crisis in our community before any dollars are spent on a new expanded jail,” Kirby said. “Please vote no on a new women’s jail today and let us work with you for truly a healthier and safer Travis County.”

Commissioners deliberated the need for a facility but added that more could be done to improve the county’s jail diversion programs.

“We don’t need another facility; we need a better facility,” Judge Sarah Eckhardt said. “In the [next] year I believe we should continue to take a look at the effectiveness, efficiency and fairness of our jail diversion programs and no matter how well intentioned, if they are not working we need to have the bravery to pull them down and move the money to another program.”

Eckhardt added that with the year-long delay there will be additional costs in overtime and there will be a request for additional corrections officers because of the inefficiency of the campus.

“Those are ongoing dollars that I would rather spend on effective jail diversion,” Eckhardt said. “But, by making the decision today we will not be spending it on jail diversion. We will be spending it on corrections officers because of the inefficiency of the current plant.”

The vote was approved 3-1 to remove the $6.2 million for the women’s facility with Commissioner Gerald Daugherty voting against and Commissioner Margaret Gomez absent.

“We need a jail improvement for the ladies and we are going to continue to lock people up,” Daugherty said. “I don’t know where we are going to find the dollars for the things you want and I don’t think we can get there in a year.”


A graphic that reads "today's coronavirus updates"
Travis County coronavirus indicators still hovering at upper end of Stage 4 risk

Travis County saw 657 new cases and 68 new hospitalizions July 13.

The city said residents should make sure they are only watering on their scheduled days based on address. (Courtesy city of Georgetown)
Georgetown faces watering restrictions, SW Austin private school closes: News from Central Texas

Read the latest business and community news from Central Texas here.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, shown here in March, announced July 13 the U.S. Department of Defense would provide additional resource to help Texas combat COVID-19. (Brian Rash/Community Impact Newspaper)
Department of Defense task forces deployed to help Texas combat COVID-19

Gov. Greg Abbott announced July 13 the U.S. Department of Defense would provide more resources to Texas to combat the rise of COVID-19.

The proposed fiscal year 2020-21 budget includes an $11.3 million reduction in police spending, achieved largely by eliminating 100 vacant positions within the Austin Police Department. (Design by Shelby Savage/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin's $4.2 billion proposed budget includes 2.5% reduction to police department funding

Community groups and some Austin City Council members have called for a police department budget reduction of at least $100 million.

Thousands marched from Huston-Tillotson University to the Texas Capitol on June 7 to protest police brutality and systemic racism. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Where Austin's mayor, 9 City Council members stand on police reform, funding, leadership

With decisions coming soon on the city's fiscal year 2020-21 budget, all but one City Council member sat down for interviews on where they stand on various policing issues in Austin.

Smith Academy services will remain open until the end of day July 31. (Courtesy Pixabay)
South Austin private school to permanently close in August

Smith Academy services will remain open until the end of day July 31.

Dripping Springs ISD sign
Dripping Springs ISD parents to opt into either 100% in-person or remote learning option for 2020-21

While parents can select an online learning option, DSISD will be offering in-person classes on campuses five days a week during the 2020-21 school year.

Travis County has added 3,069 new confirmed cases over the past week from July 6-12. (Community Impact Staff)
Travis County adds 3,069 new coronavirus cases over past week

Travis County has added 3,069 new confirmed cases over the past week from July 6-12.

A sign directs voters inside Ridgetop Elementary School in North Central Austin. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
11.8% of voters in Travis County have voted early since June 29, exceeding 2018 primary numbers

More than 97,000 Travis County residents have voted in person or by mail. The turnout far surpassed the combined early and Election Day totals in the 2018 primary run-off election.

A photo of the potential Tesla property
Travis County updates Tesla incentive package, pushing for $1 billion-plus investment from the company

Poised for a possible July 13 vote, Travis County has released a refined incentives structure proposal with electric carmaker Tesla.

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced in a June 30 State Board of Education meeting that students will be taking the STAAR in the 2020-21 school year. (Courtesy Pixabay)
Education organizations call for STAAR requirements to be waived another year

Gov. Greg Abbott waived the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, testing requirements in March of earlier this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

With a clinical background in internal, pulmonary and critical care medicine, Corry has been with BCM for 20 years. He now focuses primarily on inflammatory lung diseases, such as asthma and smoking-related chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. (Graphic by Ronald Winters/Community Impact Newspaper)
Q&A: Baylor College of Medicine's Dr. David Corry discusses immunity, vaccine production amid COVID-19 pandemic

Rapid development and distribution of a vaccine worldwide and successful achievement of herd immunity will be key players in determining the lifespan of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Dr. David Corry, a professor of Medicine in the Immunology, Allergy and Rheumatology Section at Baylor College of Medicine.