Judge Hidalgo clarifies possible release of violent offenders during COVID-19 crisis

Harris County officials have been tasked with depopulating the jails after an inmate tested positive and hundreds more were potentially infected. 

On Monday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo clarified that although she supports “compassionate releases,” her intent was no different than the governors.

"We’ve never considered releasing folks accused of violent crimes," Hidalgo said during a news conference. 

MORE: First Harris Co. Jail inmate tests positive for COVID-19: HCSO

Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order Sunday, banning the release of violent offenders. 

Hidalgo is now working with the county attorney’s office, the sheriff, district court judges and the district attorney to depopulate the jail of more than 8,000 inmates -- a complicated and lengthy process. 
"The possibility of transferring some inmates to the old Baker facility, to other facilities we’ve identified. The issue is, it takes some time - minimum a week, possibly two weeks to prepare some of those facilities and even so, we would only be able to transfer a certain number of inmates," Hidalgo said. 
Time is ticking for county leaders to come up with a plan. 

According to the sheriff’s office, one inmate tested positive and more than 500 in quarantine were possibly infected. At least 30 inmates were symptomatic. 

The Harris County Attorney’s Office is tasked with interpreting Governor Abbott’s executive order, much of which will become a case-by-case review. 

Robert Soard, the first assistant county attorney said authorities will trace each inmates’ individual record to ensure they don’t have a violent past - here, in other counties, or in other states. 

"We have to figure out what violent crime is and what it’s not. The only persons even eligible for release are in there for a non-violent offense and have never been convicted of a violent offense," Soard said. 

Soard said the executive order doesn’t mean violent offenders cannot be released from jail; those suspects could still post a money bond.

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Violent offenders could still plead their case before a judge, and their health and pre-existing conditions will be taken into consideration for bond, according to Soard. 

"It's an individual assessment based on the individual risk factors. You have individual judges making decisions based on the individual’s before them," Soard said. 

The process is just like how earlier this month, Harris County Judge DaSean Jones released a murder suspect out on bond because the inmate reportedly feared contracting Covid-19 in jail.     
Those charged with a non-violent crime and have no history of violence, are eligible to get out of jail without posting a money bond. 

However, non-violent offenders could be required to adhere to other bond conditions.
For example, someone with a DWI charge could have could be required to wear an ankle monitor or have a breathalyzer.