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Local jails face domino effect of pandemic as they near max capacity

Nueces County Jail
Posted at 3:25 PM, May 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-27 20:38:59-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — County jails in the area are near capacity. Local sheriffs have said it's a result of the pandemic.

“Law enforcement’s been doing it’s job," said Sheriff J.C. Hooper of Nueces County. "The county jail has been doing its job, but the courts have really slowed down. They’re trying to get fired up again. And they are seeing a hesitancy by some in the community to report to jury trial.”

“We’ve got inmates that haven’t seen a court room in two to three years," San Patricio County Sheriff Oscar Rivera said. "And it just back logs more and more.”

Court rooms in Nueces County are finding jurors just aren’t showing up for jury duty. Delaying trials, delaying the release or moving of inmates.

“What I would ask the citizens if you get that jury summons know that we will keep you safe," Hooper said. "This is a safe environment. If the malls can be full and the restaurants can be full, there’s no reason why we can’t be having a full schedule of trials here in this court house.”

Hooper said there are over 1100 inmates in Nueces County. Rivera said his jail has 215 inmates. Both jails at about 98 percent capacity. Both sheriffs have said they're dealing with too many alleged violent offenders. Hooper said over 80 of has inmates are awaiting a murder trial.

“Basically what has happened is the Nueces County Jail has become a penitentiary like environment with the majority of our offenders in this jail, they’re here for violent crimes," said Hooper. "And they’re not, for whatever reason, bonding out, they can’t bond out or they’re unable to bond out let me put it to you that way.”

They've said their only option is to move inmates to other jails. But it’s a costly measure for the counties. Rivera said it's $65 a day to house an inmate elsewhere, plus the costs of bringing them to and from court dates.

“We have the same problem, in fact, he (Hooper) called me last week," said Rivera. "We had room for a few of his inmates. And at the time he called me we had five. While we were talking another one came in. Said, ‘Never mind, only room for four.’”

Rivera added that last week they were able to move 17 inmates to prison. He said it's out of the ordinary to move that many in a week, but it made room for a short time. He also faces an issue housing those that need to head to a psychiatric facility.

“We’re coming into summer and traditionally there’s a slight elevation in arrests and criminal offenses during the summer," said Hooper. "And so the problem’s not going to go away.”

Rivera said they are only taking on certain misdemeanor crimes. Hooper said magistrate courts are doing well to bond out non-violent alleged offenders.