The number of people held in the Galveston County Jail decreased by more than 20 percent in March, as prosecutors, defense attorneys and law enforcement agencies worked to limit the inmate population to help prevent the spread of coronavirus in the facility.
The jail on Thursday held 764 inmates, down from 992 on March 3, a 23 percent drop, according to the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office.
Most of them, 123 people, have been freed since March 24. No cases of COVID-19 had been reported in the jail as of Thursday, officials said.
Officials are using three different methods to reduce the jail population, First Assistant Criminal District Attorney Kevin Petroff said. Some arrestees are being offered personal recognizance bonds to be released from the jail on the condition they return in the future and have their original cash bond restored, Petroff said.
Others have either pleaded guilty to charges, allowing them to be released for time served or to be sent to a state prison facility. Still others have gone through the normal process of requesting and receiving a bond reduction and putting up a cash bond, Petroff said.
As many as 100 other people at the jail already have been convicted and are eligible to be transported to state prisons, Sheriff Henry Trochesset said.
The district attorney’s office might be nearing the limit of the number of people it could reasonably release on personal bonds, Petroff said.
“We’re probably close to the end of that,” Petroff said. “We’ve identified just about everybody we can, so maybe by the end of this week or the end of next week, we’ll just be down to violent offenders.”
All jury trials in the county have been canceled through at least the end of April.
Galveston County’s strategy for releasing people didn’t change with the executive order Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued Sunday, prohibiting counties from releasing inmates accused or previously convicted of violent crimes from being released without paying bail.
“We were already doing individualized reviews of each case and screening for crimes of violence and history of violence,” Petroff said. “It really didn’t impact us at all.”
Those policies have stopped inmates or their relatives from attempting to get releases on cashless or lowered bonds.
Carla Hewett, 51, of Bacliff, has tried and failed to get in touch with prosecutors to ask for the release of her son, Cameron Tucker.
Tucker, 20, of San Leon, was arrested in March 2019 and later indicted in connection to a drive-by shooting in La Marque in which someone opened fire at a home with an AK-47-type rifle. He was charged with deadly conduct/discharge of a firearm and evading arrest and is being held on $350,000 bond. His bond also has been denied on a parole bond warrant, according to court records.
“He’s not safe,” Hewett said. “I see what’s going on in the other jails. Of course, I’m scared.”
Hewett could not afford her son’s bail and argued he should be released and allowed to return to the court when his trial begins. She pointed to a news report from Houston in which a district court judge had issued bonds as low as $10 to people accused of violent crime, and she wondered why her son couldn’t get a similar arrangement, she said.
Tucker’s trial is scheduled for May, according the court records.
“They keep on putting off cases,” Hewett said. “They’re not giving him a chance for a bond reduction. They’re not giving him a chance for personal recognizance. He lives right here, he’s never left. He’d come back to court for it.”