City and County Approve One Year Extension for Central Booking Agreement

Virtual hearings could cost county later

Phones in Travis County's Central Booking facility (Courtesy of Travis County Sheriff's Office)

The city of Austin and Travis County have shared custody of the Downtown Central Booking facility since 1988.

Back in 2018, deciding it was time for a long overdue overhaul of the aging building, they entered into an interlocal agreement (ILA) to last four years, extended another year in 2022. The cost-sharing for operations of the facility is determined through a model based on the respective expenses of both parties to provide their services at Central Booking; the city’s portion based on APD arrests and the county’s based on sheriff’s deputies’ arrests.

Last month, both parties agreed to renew the ILA until September 2024, requiring another amendment, which bumped the city’s cost up to $9.9 million, an increase of $2.6 million. This jump is a catch-up from the COVID freeze of 2020 and 2021, when the cost didn’t increase at all. It also covers programmatic changes the county is making to Central Booking in anticipation of its mental health diversion pilot, such as recruiting efforts at the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. But there’s another wrinkle – if APD succeeds in implementing a new virtual magistration procedure, that would mean they would not be using the Central Booking building anymore, drastically increasing operating costs for the county.

Part of the city’s portion of the cost has always covered pretrial services, including interviews and assessments that help judges decide on $0 bonds, which help prevent unnecessary jail stays. Now, APD is planning a mock version of a new program that would allow them to conduct bail hearings completely virtually and without county or district attorneys present. Aside from concerns that this would lead to overcrowding in an already crowded jail, as it would allow APD to avoid the county’s policy of arrest review before booking, it would also challenge the county’s ability to handle the cost of Central Booking.

In September, the city and county will attempt to come to an agreement that will renew the contract for three years. However, as the Chronicle reported in October, the city redoubled its efforts on the virtual magistration plan after seeing how much the cost would go up, prompting concern about if the two parties will be able to agree on a new cost-sharing model.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Travis County Sheriff's Office, Austin Police Department, Central Booking, Mental Health Diversion

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