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Harris County Jail Inmates Release Halted by Second Judge Order


April 3, 2020

By Natalie Cook Clark

Judge Lina Hidalgo sent Harris County officials an emergency order earlier this week mandating the temporary release of inmates with no history of violence. So far, 13 inmates have been released, sparking outraged responses from residents. Today, another Harris County judge issued an order stopping the inmates release, for now.

Coronavirus In the County Jail

Earlier this week, Judge Lina Hidalgo, the head of Harris County’s governing body, confirmed that the Harris County Jail had one confirmed COVID-19 case and another dozen inmates in isolation with suspected cases.

Hidalgo spoke on Tuesday saying that this situation is a “ticking time bomb” if not dealt with quickly. "New cases will spread like wildfire if we don't take quick action," she said.

To prevent such a spread of COVID-19 within the Harris County Jail, Hidalgo issued an order that mandated the release of about 1,000 inmates. She stressed that they would be carefully selected and would be non-violent offenders.

13 Inmates Already Back on the Streets

13 inmates were released yesterday under Hildago's temporary order. This afternoon, Harris County Civil Courthouse Judge Herb Ritchie issued another order that stopped the release of the inmates.

Harris County Sheriff Gonzalez Confirms Releases Have Stopped

Ritchie’s order questioned Hidalgo’s legal right to release any inmates.

Excerpt from Judge Ritchie’s Order

“Only the State District Judges of the 22 Felony District Courts of Harris County, Texas have exclusive constitutional and statutory jurisdiction over all felony cases assigned to their respective courts, including, but not limited to, the setting, raising and/or denial of bonds in any and all of said Courts, or the incarceration or release of probationers under supervision from said felony courts.”

The document also pointed out the fact that the vast majority of inmates in the Harris County Jail have previous felony convictions. According to Andy Kahan of Crime Stoppers Houston, the first inmate released yesterday had 9 previous felony charges.

“These are not first-time offenders,” says Andy Kahan. ”For the record, they are non-violent offenders, but property offenders wreak the most havoc on a community because it is a career choice.”

“No perfect solutions exist, but they are for the greater good of the public at large,” says Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.

In a Tweet yesterday Gonzalez said his office was tasked with submitting a draft list of 1000 “potential” defendants that fit the criteria. He furthered explained that Pre-trial services vet the list and issue the release orders.

Two Conflicting Orders

“As of now all releases have been halted,” says Kahan. “Whether this will hold has yet to be seen. The situation is very fluid.”

The issue is scheduled to be discussed in court on Monday. This is a developing story.


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