After COVID-19 was confirmed in several Texas jail populations last week, including the Dallas County Jail, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued a proclamation Sunday making it harder for some inmates to be freed on no-cost, personal recognizance bonds.
Several cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the Dallas County Jail and Harris County Jail last week, two of the state's largest, as well a handful of cases now confirmed in state prisons. The spread of the virus was followed by demands to reduce the inmate populations by releasing, immediately and without bond or judicial delay, those held on misdemeanor crimes or awaiting trial on misdemeanor crimes. Some also called for non-violent felons to also be released on no-cost bonds.
Abbott said Sunday that "releasing dangerous criminals makes the state even less safe" and issued a proclamation to block judges, and others, from releasing some inmates without a paid, cash bond.
In his executive order, Abbott said a person convicted of a crime that involved or threatened physical violence, or a person arrested for such a crime supported by probable cause, or a person with a history of violent crime, cannot be released from jail on a no-cost personal recognizance bond.
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With a PR bond, a defendant is released without being required to post any money for his or her bond on the promise they'll appear for their next court date.
The proclamation came 11 days after David Cruz, a man accused of murder in Houston, was released March 19 from the Harris County Jail on a PR bond after telling a judge he was afraid of catching COVID-19 in jail. According to KPRC-TV, the Harris County Sheriff's Office said they had no role in the judge's decision to release that inmate or 34 others who appeared to be misdemeanor offenses.
Abbott also suspended the release of a person on a PR bond for anyone awaiting trial or for where the county where the offense is alleged to have taken place has not yet taken custody of the accused with 11 days. The governor also said the sentences of violent criminals could not be commuted for good conduct, industry or obedience and that those same criminals could not be released under the supervision of an electronic monitoring program.
The proclamation ensured that no county judge, mayor or emergency management director, "from releasing persons under any circumstances inconsistent with this order." However, if proper notice is given to district attorneys and an opportunity for a hearing is provided, individuals may be considered for release for health or medical reasons.