Women’s Jail Closer to Funding

May 9, 2019
Austin Chronicle

The Travis County Commissioners Court voted last week to issue a debt package that includes initial funding for a new women's jail – despite the objections of justice advocates who, for more than a year, have identified the proposed facility as a troubling move away from efforts to decrease incarceration in Travis County.

Several Travis County agencies, along with the Austin City Council and groups such as Grassroots Leadership, have embraced programs and policies aimed at reducing jail bookings for minor offenses such as driving with an invalid license, public intoxication, and marijuana possession. This is in part a budget measure – incarceration costs to taxpayers will grow $10 million this year over 2018 – but also reflects the community's commitment to restorative justice.

These strategies seem to be making a difference; female bookings for misdemeanors are down 24% since 2016, and 2019's average overall daily population is the lowest it's been in six years. That's what makes the Commis­sion­ers Court's move to fund a new jail for women inmates controversial and why the county responded to advocate concerns and held off on funding last year. But on April 23 the court put the jail, currently budgeted at more than $80 million, back on the list of projects to be funded by certificates of obligation; then on April 30, commissioners voted to issue the CO package, with $6.6 million in design and pre-construction funding.