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How Is The Coronavirus Outbreak Affecting Bexar County's Jail, Criminal Justice System?

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The global COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend nearly all aspects of life. While residents practice social distancing under a shelter-in-place order, what impact is the public health crisis having on Bexar County's criminal justice system and jail?

Of approximately 4,500 inmates housed in the Bexar County Adult Detention Center at any given time so far, seven have tested positive for COVID-19. Cases have also been confirmed for 14 deputies, 2 civilian employees, a maintenance employee and a University Health System nurse assigned to the jail.  

Was the Bexar County Jail prepared for the possibility of a coronavirus outbreak? What measures are in place to identify and contain its spread? What's being done to protect both staff and those who are incarcerated, and to prevent community transmission? 

Incarcerated individuals are considered high risk for the virus. There have been calls to free vulnerable inmates -- especially those over age 50 with underlying health issues -- but Gov. Abbott issued an executive order blocking the release of certain inmates who can't make bail. 

An ACLU lawsuit alleges this order amounts to wealth-based discrimination and therefore unconstitutional. Texas' AG asserts the measure was enacted to maintain the integrity of the state's criminal justice system. 

Regularly scheduled dockets in Bexar County's criminal district courts are suspended through at least May 8. Only essential matters are being heard by a single judge. Which cases qualify during a public health crisis? What are the implications of putting the system on pause?

How has the coronavirus threat affected internal operations for the District Attorney's and Sheriff's offices? Are public safety and court responsibilities still being met? 

Should vulnerable inmates be released to mitigate the risk of rapid COVID spread in overcrowded county jails? What rights do people confined to correctional facilities have in a public health emergency?

How are top law enforcement officials adapting to fulfill their mandates to protect and serve all citizens amid a global pandemic, including those who are incarcerated?


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*This interview was recorded on Wednesday, April 15.

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Kim Johnson is the producer for Texas Public Radio’s live, call-in show The Source. She is a Trinity University alum with bachelor’s degrees in Communication and Spanish, and a Master of Arts Degree from the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.
Dallas Williams is a Producer for The Source at Texas Public Radio. With a degree in Mass Communication — Broadcast Media, Dallas brings a unique perspective and a passion to producing a live, call-talk show.