José Garza Calls for Jail Changes To Reduce COVID-19 Danger
D.A. candidate calls for fewer arrests, more releases
By Brant Bingamon,
1:15PM, Mon. Mar. 16, 2020
On Monday, March 16, José Garza, candidate for Travis County District Attorney, called on city and county law enforcement officials to radically change the way they administer criminal justice in response to COVID-19, focusing attention on the danger the virus poses to the 2,000 people locked up in Central Texas.
In a letter to members of the City Council and Commissioners Court among others – including his opponent in the May 26 run-off election, incumbent D.A. Margaret Moore – Garza wrote “locked down facilities like jails have incredibly high rates of infection…. Time and again, jails and prisons have been hotbeds for the spread of disease.”
With this in mind, Garza called for:
• temporarily ending arrests for misdemeanors and state jail felonies unless doing so creates a risk to public safety;
• immediately releasing those in county jail who don’t pose a public safety risk, using personal bond if necessary;
• ensuring that those in jail can maintain contact with attorneys;
• providing free hygiene products to inmates and free use of telephones; and
• committing to best practices and publicly releasing the processes jails will use in testing inmates, treating them, and seeking to halt the spread of the disease.
Some of these measures have been implemented in Seattle in the wake of its COVID-19 outbreak and are being contemplated in other cities across the country. On a statewide level, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on Friday began to address similar concerns, suspending visits to all Texas prisons until further notice.
Garza notes that it isn’t just inmates who are threatened; guards, attorneys, and support staff visit jails throughout the day. If infection rates soar behind bars, the vast community that administers justice—and the broader public—will be at risk.