As jail populations rise, Bexar County officials ask Greg Abbott to reverse order suspending bail laws

Officials want local control in in deciding who should be released from custody amid coronavirus pandemic

Bexar County officials are asking for more control from the state on issuing personal recognizance bonds.

SAN ANTONIO – After previously expressing concern on the growing population at the Bexar County Jail, county officials sent a letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday asking him to reverse an executive order that limits judges’ abilities to release inmates on personal bonds.

The request is signed by Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, District Attorney Joe Gonzales, Sheriff Javier Salazar and 379th District Court Judge Ron Rangel, taking aim at Executive Order GA-13, which the governor issued on March 29. The order suspended bail laws and bans judges from issuing personal recognizance bonds for people charged with or previously convicted of violent crimes.

Since the order was put in place, the jail population has spiraled to more than 3,800 inmates, an increase that is costing taxpayers roughly $50,000 a day.

Abbott has previously said his order was done in the interest of safety and keeping violent criminals in jail amid the pandemic.

The order has been challenged in courts by attorneys of inmates and Harris County judges, who allege the order creates an unconstitutional system that discriminates against poor people accused of crimes.

Overcrowding is a major concern for local officials because jails and prisons are among the most vulnerable places for a COVID-19 outbreak. Salazar said earlier this month there’s an upward trend in COVID-19 cases in the jail.

The officials said judges are aware of “their oath and obligation to consider the safety of the public as paramount in deliberations.”

“At this juncture of the COVID-19 crisis, Executive Order GA-13 has unduly restrained the locally elected judges and sheriffs from exercising their discretion to enact policies designed to protect the public health and safety of their citizens.