The Dallas County commissioners have voted to modify the county's pretrial release program with the aim of releasing more inmates who pose no safety risk while they await trial. Fox 4 reports this move is part of an effort to reduce jail overcrowding, which has been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic. Under the new policy, low-risk inmates will only need to provide one reference in order to be eligible for pre-trial release, instead of the previous requirement of two. This decision was made as a cost-saving measure, as it costs $67 per day to house an inmate in the Dallas County jail.
Fox 4 reports the county has a long-standing program to handle the conditional release of inmates awaiting trial, but the commissioners voted to revise it in order to bring the program into compliance with state law. Other changes include allowing inmates to be eligible for pretrial release one year after their release from prison for a different offense, instead of three years, and the reduction of the need for two personal references to one.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins argues that these updates will actually improve public safety. "It’s a pretty serious problem when you get up to 90% of capacity," he said. "You are making decisions you would not normally make about who goes in and who goes out." Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price highlighted the pressing need for more space for female inmates, saying: "A female cannot be in sight or sound of a male, according to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. Or we are out of compliance." He also pointed out that the state is exacerbating the space problem by not housing those who are mentally ill, which would free up needed beds.
It's important to note that inmates with violent offenses will not be eligible for the pre-trial release program, and that a defendant must also have no previous felony conviction for a violent or assaultive offense within the past seven years.
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