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Keep Houston Press Free
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Judge Ritchie Orders Halt to County Jail Release of Prisoners

Not free as a bird for now.
Not free as a bird for now.
Photo by Margaret Downing

Friday afternoon, Judge Herb Ritchie countermanded Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo's prisoner release order and ordered a stop to any release of county jail inmates charged with a felony.

In his "Order to Disregard Directive," Ritchie, the administrative judge for the Harris County Courts Trying Criminal Cases, said that all such prisoners fall under the purview of the 22 Felony District Courts and they and only they "have exclusive constitutional and statutory jurisdiction over all felony cases assigned to their respective courts."

On April 1, Hidalgo had ordered the release of what was expected to be about 1,000 inmates out of the 8,000 now house d in the jail. No one charged with a crime of violence or with a history of crimes of violence, accused of a burglary of a habitation or who  was facing a third DWI charge would be eligible for consideration for release. The object was to reduce the spread of the coronavirus among the packed conditions in the jail.

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Only a handful of inmates were released before the felony court judge's directive went into effect.

Here is the order:

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