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Brazos County Detention Center has 44 active inmate cases
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Brazos County Detention Center has 44 active inmate cases

38 healthy low-level offenders released on bond to relieve jail numbers

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Brazos County Detention Center

The jail population as of Tuesday sat at between 560 and 570. Prior to the pandemic, the jail population could exceed 700. Now the Sheriff’s Office is taking measures to reduce the number of beds filled. 

Thirty-eight non-violent offenders awaiting trial in local courts have been released from the Brazos County Detention Center because 44 center inmates and eight staff members are considered active COVID-19 patients, according to jail administrators.

According to Brazos County Detention Center administrator Wayne Dicky, 44 active cases is the highest number among inmates the jail has seen since the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Of these 44 individuals, one person is hospitalized locally and is being assisted by a ventilator, Dicky said.

The first jail inmate to test positive in Brazos County was diagnosed in early June, according to a June 3 Eagle article. Since then, the Sheriff’s Office has made efforts to isolate each inmate testing positive for the virus, placing the inmate in a negative pressure cell or other isolated cell. Dicky said the jail’s commissary was closed for a few days when it was suspected some COVID-19 cases could be traced to that area, but the service has since reopened for prisoner use.

“Anybody who tests positive is receiving care,” Dicky said, acknowledging the concern of inmates’ loved ones on the outside. “... If someone needs medical care of any kind, they are getting that care.”

All newly admitted inmates are tested for coronavirus, Dicky said, regardless of symptoms present or an inmate’s exposure to the virus.

“When people are first arrested, they spend their first 14 days in a small group,” Dicky said. “We observe them and make sure they aren’t sick. They are tested during the last days before they go back into general population. We didn’t test people who were in [jail] prior to March.”

The jail population as of Tuesday sat at between 560 and 570. Prior to the pandemic, the jail population could exceed 700. Now the Sheriff’s Office is taking measures to reduce the number of beds filled. Beginning in March, jail administration had requested that local law enforcement agencies use discretion in making arrests on nonviolent misdemeanors. Dicky said that while the number of arrests initially plummeted, it has since been slowly inching higher.

The Sheriff’s Office requested in July that the Brazos County District Attorney’s Office review a number of prisoners’ charges and issue personal reconnaissance [PR] bonds to thin out jail numbers. Assistant District Attorney Jessica Escue said that a PR bond allows a defendant who is awaiting trial to bail out of jail free of charge, with the promise to attend every future court date. A violation of the terms of bond would be cause for rearrest, and the defendant once again would be forced to pay the prior bond amount for any further release.

“The jail sent over a list of potential defendants that they would have liked to release,” Escue said. “We went through and made an individual determination of the defendants we would grant PR bonds. We researched each individual’s criminal history, their current offense, their potential danger to community, etc.”

Most who were released were charged with low-level drug offenses and theft, Escue said. Anyone with a history of family violence, anyone arrested while on parole, and anyone with warrants outside the county remained in jail. While a person’s health risk did factor into an inmate’s release, it didn’t supersede a public safety concern.

Dicky said that when the pandemic first spread through Texas, the Sheriff’s Office planned to request PR bonds when the first positive case was detected in the jail.

“When we first got some cases, we didn’t make the request immediately,” he said. “But as cases continued to grow, we made that request. ... We [initially] had people come in who had been identified as positive [for COVID-19] right when they arrived, and we were successfully isolating them. But then, the community numbers spiked, and, I don’t know if there’s a correlation, but since the community numbers were hitting 100 to 150 cases a day, we started seeing more cases in jail per day, and that’s when we made that decision.”

Escue noted that the 38 PR bonds were all issued last week, and newly arrested offenders won’t necessarily be given a PR bond at present. Prosecutors will evaluate continually whether bonds should be issued.

“It’s an evolving situation,” she said.

Madison, Leon, Robertson, Grimes and Burleson counties all reported zero active COVID-19 cases amongst their jails’ inmates. Washington County Sheriff Otto Hanak referenced the Texas Commission on Jail Standards [TCJS] website, which reports four active cases among inmates as of Monday, in addition to two staff member cases. Milam County Sheriff Chris White could not be reached for comment, but the same TCJS website reports the Milam County Jail at three active cases for inmates, and three active cases for staff members. No deaths have been reported in any Brazos Valley county jails.

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