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Commissioners in Travis County recently voted to put a proposed $97 million women’s jail expansion on hold for one year while they take the time to determine exactly how to improve various diversion programs. This is a major victory for advocates of criminal justice reform who were opposed to the idea of the expansion due to the feeling that it would put more people into jail thanks to the increased number of beds.

The sheriff had previously stated that the expansion was necessary thanks to the female inmate population increasing. The sheriff also said that the facilities that currently exist are in poor condition, and that the expansion would allow for the female inmate population to be split up into four different facilities.

Over two dozen individuals spoke out against the expansion during a recent meeting at the Commissioners Court, as well as at a news conference prior to the meeting itself taking place. They stated that they felt more could be done by the county to help keep people out of jail before they even thought about going ahead with an expansion such as this. Some of their suggestions included assistance with substance abuse, mental health, and more.

There are all sorts of diversion programs offered in Travis County, including a veterans court, a substance abuse residential treatment program, and a drug diversion court. Thanks to these programs, the county has witnessed a 40% decrease in bookings involving Class B misdemeanors. 

As for the county sheriff, she says she’s disappointed by the vote that was taken. She also added that there are 30 different agencies who book people into the jail, which meant that Travis County has only partial control over diversion itself.

Thank you for visiting the JGE blog, an Austin criminal defense firm. We write to inform the community about local law changes, news and current events.