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TOP Commits To Bailing People Out Of Large County Jails In Texas

A file photo of the Bexar County Sheriff's Office and detention center.
Eileen Pace | Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
A file photo of the Bexar County Sheriff's Office and detention center.

A Texas advocacy organization will begin bailing people out of Texas jails out of concern for COVID-19.  

The Texas Organizing Project (TOP) announced Tuesday it will begin bailing out people from Bexar, Harris, Dallas and Fort Bend counties today. 

In a release TOP officials said they were concerned about the dangerous conditions that could lead to many inmates being infected and dying.

“We were hoping our elected officials would be able to empty our jails so they wouldn’t become a hotbed for this disease, but it hasn’t happened,” said Synnichia McQueen, a Harris County TOP leader.

Twenty-eight inmates at Bexar County Jail have been diagnosed with the disease and jailers in Harris County will begin expanded COVID-19 testing. As of Monday, Harris County Jail — the largest in the state — had 99 inmates diagnosed alongside another 144 presumed positives. According to Houston Public Media, 2,000 inmates were being observed because of exposure to the infected.

Gov. Greg Abbott banned the release by county jails of anyone accused or convicted of a violent crime last month.

“Such releases from county or municipal jails of those charged with, convicted of, or having a history of offenses involving physical violence or threats of physical violence would not only gravely threaten public safety, but would also hinder efforts to cope with the COVID-19 disaster,” said Abbott’s executive order on the issue.

It's unclear how many TOP will be able to help with bail money. They are currently targeting people with low bail amounts of $2,000 or less.  Thus far they have helped a dozen people total in Harris and Bexar counties.

The Texas Organizing Project is best known for successfully pushing paid sick leave ordinances in San Antonio, Austin and Dallas. Ordinances were later challenged in courts.

The organization has been working to reform the bail system in Texas since the 2015 death of Sandra Bland, who committed suicide while being held for trial on bail she couldn't raise. 

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org or Twitter @paulflahive.

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Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org and on Twitter at @paulflahive