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Travis County Commissioners Postpone Construction Of New Women's Jail

Michael Minasi

Travis County won't move ahead with a new jail facility for women staying at the Travis County Correctional Facility in Del Valle — at least for now.

Commissioners heard hours of testimony against the proposal, which would cost roughly $79 million, before voting to hold off on the design plan for the jail — or any jail facility. Commissioners also voted to convene a working group to revise the plan.

The proposal came under fire in recent weeks from criminal justice advocates who argued the county-commissioned study that recommended the construction relied on outdated projections for jail populations. That study was part of a two-decade-long master plan to revamp Travis County's jail facilities.

Last week, Travis County Judge Andy Brown, who wrote an op-ed in the Austin Chronicle against the project, and Commissioner Ann Howard proposed the county rethink that master plan. The resolution from the newest members of the court sparked tense exchanges ahead of public comment.

Commissioners Margaret Gómez, Brigid Shea and Jeff Travillion ultimately supported the resolution to reexamine the master plan and pause any decisions about design or construction.

Shea initially opposed Brown and Howard's resolution, which had called for a yearlong moratorium on any work related to design or construction of the jail. She has suggested advocates misrepresented the county's role. Advocates have argued a new jail would lead to more people becoming incarcerated. Shea has insisted commissioners have a constitutional requirement to provide care for folks in custody and that the current jail doesn't meet women's needs.

Earlier this week, Bob Libal, the former head of Grassroots Leadership and one of the strongest critics of the project, floated the idea of running against Shea in the next election.

Travillion said the process had become too political and that advocates, while well-intentioned, had muddied the waters of the internal discussion on the jail.

"We will not get where we need to be by ... not working together and understanding what our real goals are," he said. "Because if we do that, we're not going to trust each other. We're going to be angry at each other. We're going to work against each other ... and who's going to suffer? The poorest of the poor all the time, because folks with money always get what they want."

More than 100 people signed up to speak about the plan. Commissioners heard just over three hours of testimony before amending the resolution to pause any jail design or construction and to make it clearer that the county wasn't abandoning the master plan altogether. Commissioners unanimously approved the resolution.

The new work group is set to convene in August.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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