Harris County Sheriff suggests releasing inmates to reduce the spread of coronavirus at county jails

As the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez took to social media Wednesday to discuss the idea of compassionate releases.

“Jail administrators must remain proactive," Gonzalez wrote on Twitter. “Jails are perfect incubators for #COVID19. I am concerned for my staff and those under my care. Standards we implement in the general community are either impossible to follow or hard to do in a jail setting.”

He continued: “We can accomplish some compassionate releases that pose no risk to the public. As proactive as I’ve been, an outbreak in our jail would spread like wildfire. An outbreak in our jail could potentially overwhelm our local (health) system. Jail health is community health."

Former Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said considering the threat the virus poses to the community, the idea of compassionate releases could make a difference in any possible spread.

Emmett, also a KPRC 2 consultant, said: “Of course by lessening the jail population, you make it less likely did you have a severe outbreak in the jail itself. I think it’s a good idea to identify people in jail that would be better served outside of the jail. Their families would be better served and I think in the end society is better served by that.”

As far as if compassionate releases could really happen, that would likely depend on many county leaders.

“I think it’s realistic," Emmett said. “I think particularly if the district attorney and the sheriff and the judges get together, you know the criminal court judges and whoever is involved, they can come with a system to make it work.”

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