Report: Texas county jail booking overwhelming majority of misdemeanors

A report found that at least nine of Texas' largest counties booked more people on misdemeanor charges than felonies in 2017


Mark D. Wilson
Austin American-Statesman

TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas — Nearly 70 percent of people who were booked into the Travis County Jail in 2017 landed there on misdemeanor charges, according to a report from justice advocacy nonprofit Texas Appleseed.

The report compiled jail population data from a dozen of the largest counties in Texas and found that in at least nine o them , misdemeanor bookings were higher than felony bookings.

Texas law includes three different classes of misdemeanor offenses. Class A misdemeanors are punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum fine of $4,000; Class B misdemeanors are punishable by 180 days in jail and a maximum fine of $2,000; and Class C misdemeanors, like traffic violations, are punishable by a maximum fine of $500.

In Travis County, where 46,310 people were arrested in 2017, 31,989 of them — or 69 percent — were booked on a misdemeanor charge, Texas Appleseed's report found. The remaining 14,262 bookings, or 31 percent, were for felony charges.

Texas Appleseed's report recommended ending jail bookings for Class C misdemeanors and most bookings for offenses eligible for tickets. It also called for the implementation of diversion programs and other local solutions to reduce jail use.

Travis County Jail records show that 9,717 people were booked into the facility on a Class C misdemeanor charges in fiscal year 2017, or about 12.5 percent of all bookings.

Class C misdemeanor bookings steadily declined from 2012 to 2016, records show. In 2012, 15,854 people were booked on a Class C misdemeanor charge. In 2016, there were down to 9,689.

Figures for 2018 weren't immediately available.

Booking numbers from Texas Appleseed and Travis County Jail vary because Texas Appleseed considered only the most serious charges against inmates in their study, while Travis County Jail records tally all charges.

Late last year, Austin City Council members unanimously approved two resolutions in September that directed Austin police to end most discretionary arrests, or those in which an officer decides to make an arrest for an offense that could have been punished with a citation rather than a trip to jail. Police are also required to track when discretionary arrests are made and why.

"The vast majority of people who commit nonviolent misdemeanors — and who are legally eligible to receive a citation — receive a citation and are not arrested," Council Member Greg Casar wrote on the council's online message board shortly before the resolutions passed. "However, according to APD data, more than 1,000 people in 2017 were arrested for these kinds of citation-eligible offenses via discretionary arrest."

It is yet to be seen how those policies have brought changes to the jail population. On Thursday morning, three people facing Class C misdemeanor charges were in Travis County Jail. It was unclear what other charges those individuals faced or which law enforcement agency conducted the arrests.

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©2019 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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