HAYS COUNTY, Texas — As the severity of COVID-19 grows, several industries have changed protocols to keep as many people as possible safe.
- Advocates want to reduce number of people in jails
- Face-to-face visits prohibited at Hays County Jail
- Officers handling non-emergency calls over the phone
Activists in Hays County believe the criminal justice system needs to change too.
“We have exploding jail populations and as a result of that, any kind of infectious disease that comes through can have the potential to be a disaster,” said San Marcos attorney Shannon FitzPatrick.
The Hays County Sheriff’s Office has said jail operations have changed in response to the virus. Notably, no more face-to-face visits, with the exception of attorneys and medical assessments of arrestees when they arrive.
In an email, a county spokesman also said the office is "encouraging warrants or citations, such as cite and release, or citations vs automatic arrests. However, if the situation dictates the person needs to be arrested, we would do so."
“Mano Amiga has been trying to encourage our law enforcement agencies to offer a citation or some sort of a different process rather than arresting people in such large numbers,” said FitzPatrick.
The Hays County Sheriff’s Office says unless it’s an emergency, officers will handle non-emergency calls over the phone and deputies will go to homes or meet with people face to face only when necessary.
"It doesn’t just infect the inmates. It’s everybody handling the inmates so when the officer makes an arrest he or she is exposed, they take them down to the jail and the jailers and all the staff are exposed. Then the other inmates are exposed,” said FitzPatrick.
Still, advocates believe a critical solution for avoiding an outbreak in jails is by reducing the number of people sent there.