KATY MAGAZINE NEWS
May 9, 2020
By Natalie Cook Clark
This week, Fort Bend County officials sent a letter to the Texas Board of Criminal Justice requesting they stop sending COVID-19 positive prisoners to the Jester Prison in Richmond. The lack of information has led to confusion and a resident-led petition.
Fort Bend County Constable Wayne Thompson with Precinct 3 was first alerted that prisoners with Covid were being sent to Jester by a concerned resident. “It is horrible in my opinion and I think there are other places to send them or at least have notified us of this,” says Thompson. “They did the same thing to Brazoria County and their County Judge was upset as well.”
Fort Bend County Judge KP George was also incensed and released a Statement about the state’s action on April 30. “I was shocked to find out that the State of Texas has been using Fort Bend County as a dumping ground for convicted criminals with coronavirus,” George wrote. “The State didn’t tell me until after it had begun the process of transferring prisoners who are positive for COVID-19 to the Jester State Prison in Richmond. It’s outrageous that state officials would jeopardize the health and safety of Fort Bend County citizens, who have sacrificed so much to flatten the curve, by sending all of their sick prisoners here.”
Officials Send Letter to the State
On May 6, Judge George, Constable Wayne Thompson, and Texas State Rep. Ron Reynolds sent a letter requesting the state to stop sending Covid-19 prisoners to Fort Bend County, but have not received a response.
Page 2 of Letter
Concerns of Spread in Fort Bend County
Thompson says he is hearing different stories on whether these transferred inmates are COVID-19 positive or recovered, and what that means. “With it being a health issue, I’m not sure what they can tell us.” Additionally, as a state run prison, Fort Bend County officials have no jurisdiction there. “This is out of my sandbox,” says Thompson. “It’s a state issue but as a resident of Fort Bend County I find it very worrisome.”
Thompson says he’s concerned about the transferred prisoners potentially exposing Jester’s staff, most of which live and work in Fort Bend County.
Sheriff Nehls Tours Facility
Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls took a tour of the Jester Prison facility earlier this month with State Representative Phil Stephenson. Nehls, who lives about a mile from the Richmond prison, says many people have reached out to him with concerns about the state’s transferring inmates to Fort Bend County.
Nehls stated that medically cleared COVID-19 prisoners who have had the virus, but have since been medically cleared, are being sent to the facility out of an “abundance of caution” and to separate them from prisoners who have not had the virus. “My tour of the Jester facility in Richmond gave me confidence in their ability to ensure the safety of their staff and mitigate the risk of spreading the virus among inmates,” stresses Nehls, who confirms that Fort Bend County has no involvement in the operation of the state-run facility.
Impact on Fort Bend County
“We were surprised that we didn’t hear about this happening,” says Tara Patel, Chief of Staff for Judge KP George. “We want the prisoners and those employees working in the facilities to receive the best care, but we are concerned over how this process will impact our area. Certainly TBCJ has other facilities in less populated areas.”
Another issue raised is what will happen to these prisoners if they serve out their time and are released. “These inmates are not released from that [Jester] prison,” assures Major Chad Norvell with the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office. “The judge’s only argument is that Fort Bend residents may work at the prison. Otherwise, there is no risk or additional exposure for anyone around here.”
What Residents Can Do
“We haven’t received any feedback or answer back from the State regarding the letter,” says Patel. “The next step will be to send the petition and we ask concerned residents to reach out to their State Representatives and Senators.
Sign the Petition
Fort Bend County residents and officials are circulating a petition for those concerned to sign. You can access it here.