Judge orders halt to Harris County inmate release

A Harris County administrative judge has ordered county officials to "wholly disregard" an order from Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo that involved releasing certain nonviolent inmates from the Harris County Jail. (Courtesy Brian Jackson/Adobe Stock)
A Harris County administrative judge has ordered county officials to "wholly disregard" an order from Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo that involved releasing certain nonviolent inmates from the Harris County Jail. (Courtesy Brian Jackson/Adobe Stock)

A Harris County administrative judge has ordered county officials to "wholly disregard" an order from Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo that involved releasing certain nonviolent inmates from the Harris County Jail. (Courtesy Brian Jackson/Adobe Stock)

A Harris County administrative judge has voided an order from County Judge Lina Hidalgo authorizing a review process for the release of some nonviolent inmates from the Harris County Jail shortly after the first few inmates were released April 3.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez tweeted that the sheriff's office is complying with the new order, which was signed by Herb Ritchie, an administrative judge with the Harris County District Courts Trying Criminal Cases.

The initial order from Hidalgo was signed April 1. It called on Gonzalez to lead an effort to compile a list of detainees who were eligible for release under the order's guidelines. Eligible inmates had to be in the jail pretrial and could not have already been convicted of a crime, could not have a history of violent crime or threats, and could not be in jail for certain crimes such as burglary of a home or a third DWI, among other criteria. Inmates who showed symptoms for COVID-19 would also not be released under the order.

The list from Gonzalez would then be reviewed by a group of criminal justice stakeholders. Any released inmate would have been supervised by Harris County Pretrial Services and would be required to appear in court as directed.

In a March 31 press conference announcing the order, Hidalgo said it was based on recommendations from medical experts who saw the jail as a location where a coronavirus outbreak could take place.

"Public health experts have made clear that it’s a dangerous situation," she said. "The cramped conditions there make it virtually impossible to enforce social distancing [and] proper quarantining of sick people."


An estimated 8,000 inmates are currently housed in the jail, and another 3,000 or so employees and contractors go in and out of the jail on a regular basis, Hidalgo said. As of April 3, five employees of the sheriff's office stationed at the jail and three inmates have tested positive for COVID-19. Another 33 inmates show symptoms of the virus and have been quarantined, according to the sheriff's office.



The text of Ritchie's order was shared by Gonzalez on Twitter. In the order, Ritchie ordered the sheriff, pretrial services, and the County Community Supervisors and Corrections Department to "ignore and wholly disregard" the order after finding that "only the State District Judges of the 22 Felony District Courts of Harris County, Texas have exclusive and constitutional statutory jurisdiction over all felony cases assigned to their respective courts, including ... the setting, raising and/or denial of bonds."

Prior to the court order, county officials said they were reviewing a list of 1,000 people who fit the criteria for Hidalgo's order, but that number was expected to go down as the review process intensified.

As of April 3, the county released the names of six inmates who have been temporarily released. Those inmates had been arrested crimes such as the unauthorized use of a vehicle, evading arrest, drug possession with intent to deliver, and fraudulent use or possession of identifying information.
By Shawn Arrajj
Shawn Arrajj serves as the editor of the Cy-Fair edition of Community Impact Newspaper where he covers the Cy-Fair and Jersey Village communities. He mainly writes about development, transportation and issues in Harris County.


MOST RECENT

Cy-Fair ISD recently added 266 propane buses to its total fleet. Funded by the 2019 bond package, the buses account for approximately 30% of the district’s total fleet and provide cleaner emissions. (Courtesy Cy-Fair ISD)
Cy-Fair ISD's 2019 bond program funds new propane buses to replace diesel vehicles

Propane buses now account for about 30% of the district's entire fleet.

The University of St. Thomas is a private Catholic college in Houston. It also has a microcampus in downtown Conroe. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)
University of St. Thomas offering free tuition to first 500 students who apply

The online degrees are in the following fields: cybersecurity, network technology, electronic technology, general business, and alcohol and drug dependency counseling.

Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 has begun construction on the first of three phases for its new 43-acre, state-of-the-art campus located in Spring, according to a May 7 news release. (Courtesy Cypress Creek EMS)
Harris County Emergency Services District No. 11 begins construction on new 43-acre campus

The campus will house ESD No. 11's new ambulance service, which is scheduled to launch Sept. 4 when the district's contract with current service provider, Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Services, expires.

King and his team constructed the Ringing Singing Tree, a 17-foot-tall, 20-ton wind powered sound sculpture, in 2015. The project is on display outside of Austin. (Courtesy JK Welding)
Cypress-based JK Welding takes on unique, challenging projects

Motorists might recognize the FM 529 facility by the large projects that can be seen from the street, which have included an oil derrick, a pirate ship and a massive wind chime.

The new campus will be modeled after the comprehensive Houston Methodist West and Houston Methodist The Woodlands facilities. (Courtesy Houston Methodist)
Houston Methodist announces plans for new 400-bed hospital in Cypress

The new hospital could open as early as 2024 and ultimately employ more than 500 people, officials said.

The Texas Department of State Health Services projects a significant shortage of nurses by 2032. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Q&A: Why Texas faces a growing nursing shortage and what can be done to address it

In 2018, the state health department estimated about 11% of the demand for nurses was not able to be met, and that number is expected to rise to 16.3% by 2032.

Jersey Village City Hall is located on Lakeview Drive, but city officials have plans to break ground on a new facility in Village Center this summer. (Danica Lloyd/Community Impact Newspaper)
Village Center, new Jersey Village City Hall slated for groundbreaking this summer following delays

If construction begins this summer as planned, the entire project could be completed within three to four years, officials told residents during a May 4 information session about the project.

HTV
Houston, Harris County annual addresses no longer hosted by Greater Houston Partnership over Texas voter bill dispute

Local leaders criticized the area chamber of commerce for not taking a definitive stance on two voting access bills currently being deliberated in the Texas Legislature.

The new location is Chipotle's first in Magnolia. (Courtesy Chipotle Mexican Grill)
Chipotle opens in Magnolia; get a sneak peek of new Houston aquarium and more metro news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

RoseMary Tucker founded the Hoodies 4 Healing Foundation. (Danica Lloyd/Community Impact Newspaper)
Cypress-based nonprofit Hoodies 4 Healing Foundation serves families in need

From feeding the homeless to financially supporting single mothers raising children with medical conditions, RoseMary Tucker said her goal is to give back to the community.

The business specializes in customized in-home consultations during which families will receive a fire safety plan specific to their house's floor plan and an age-appropriate, individualized plan for each family member. (Courtesy Fire Smart, LLC)
Fire Smart, LLC celebrates one year of providing fire safety education across Greater Houston area

The business specializes in customized in-home consultations during which families will receive a fire safety plan specific to their house's floor plan and an age-appropriate, individualized plan for each family member.