Harris Co. DA supports but questions plan for new courts to alleviate jail overcrowding

Pooja Lodhia Image
Thursday, February 23, 2023
13 Investigates: A crowded Harris Co. Jail leads to record-high deaths
Overcrowding, record-high deaths, and stalled justice at the Harris County Jail have commissioners considering adding six new district courts.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- 13 Investigates has been reporting on overcrowding at the Harris County Jail for more than a year now.

And the impact of that overcrowding has been clear: record-high deaths and stalled justice.

Harris County Commissioners are now exploring a plan to add six new district courts to ease the criminal case backlog.

The county's district attorney said, in theory, she agrees to the plan, but has many questions and concerns.

"We're a supersized county with a criminal justice system that's just about right for 2 million people," Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said.

As of Wednesday, the Harris County Jail holds nearly 10,000 inmates, with more than a thousand outsourced to other counties.

Inmates spend an average of about six months in jail, just waiting for trial.

SEE ALSO: More coverage from 13 Investigates on inmate deaths

"Imagine being the parents of a murdered child having to wait five years for justice," Ogg said. "And the insult added to injury if that individual who was charged with killing your child is out on bail."

The county's budget office says adding six extra courts would cost the county about $30 million in implementation costs, then an extra $16 million every year.

It could also take years.

"It's not an immediate fix to the problems at the Harris County Jail," Ogg said. "It would take time for the legislature to agree and approve, then implement. Then you'd have to hire."

But, without significant long-term or short-term plans to relieve overcrowding, the situation at the jail is not expected to improve.

Four inmates have already died this year, adding to a record 27 deaths last year.

"We feel like we have a collective responsibility to help protect the staff and the inmates in jail, but I'm not going to be able to do that by simply dismissing cases," Ogg said. "When you have a jail where a jailer has been raped, and individuals have been dying, they do not deserve it. I think our commissioners' court should be approaching this issue with a sense of urgency when it comes to funding and fixing it."

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