As coronavirus spreads, advocates are calling on officials to release Dallas County inmates

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A banner hangs on a bridge in front of the Lew Sterrett Justice Center in Dallas. Photo: Instagram/Dallasforchange

DALLAS, TEXAS (KDAF) – As the spread of COVID-19 intensifies in North Texas and across the U.S., so have the measures to try and curb it. Social distancing guidelines and limits on non-essential activities continue to be implemented. Dallas county recently extended the shelter-in-place order until April 30th.

In Texas, advocates say not enough is being done to protect one population that is uniquely vulnerable to contracting COVID-19: inmates.

Jails across the country have started releasing inmates due to coronavirus concerns and confirmed cases of COVID-19 are popping up in incarcerated populations. Last week, the first inmate at the Dallas County Jail tested positive for the disease. The latest reports have the confirmed cases at 17 and that number will likely grow.

Jail and prison populations are at a higher risk due to close proximity and poor sanitation and hygiene resources.

As calls began increasing for jails across Texas to release inmates and shrink populations, last Sunday Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order that made it more difficult for people to be released. The order prevents inmates accused or previously convicted of violent crimes from being released from jail without paying bail first.

According to the Dallas Sheriff’s Department, the average daily population in Dallas County detention centers is 6,500, with a maximum capacity of 7,100.

While some local and state officials are looking for ways to shrink the jail population, advocates say there needs to be more done.

In a statement Devin Branch, lead organizer of Texas Organizing Project’s Right2Justice campaign, said “This is truly a matter of life and death. If people die in the county jail or in our community due to the unwillingness of elected judges and state officials to take the required action to mitigate this crisis, the blood of the dead will be on their hands.”

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