The last operational courthouse in Houston began flooding Monday, and if the building’s magistrate courts go under, low-level criminals will have nowhere to go but jail, spelling massive overcrowding for local incarceration units.
The Houston magistrate courts based in the building feed into Texas’ largest prison, which houses between 8,000 and 10,000 inmates. But if the courts fail, low-level offenders that would would normally get released and defendants that can afford bail would be forced into prison until the flood waters recede, the Houston Chronicle reported Monday.
The city’s magistrate courts were originally housed in a 20-story building in downtown Houston, but flooding forced an evacuation over the weekend. Officials announced that new building’s roof collapsed on Monday, and they fear it is only a matter of time until the building becomes unusable. (RELATED: What is Texas Doing With The 6,000 Inmates Displaced By Harvey?)
“Floor by floor, the water is coming in and flushing out the tiles of the floors above, letting water flood the next floor,” District Clerk Chris Daniel told the Chronicle. “Because it’s collapsed in enough places, water is just free falling from the eighth floor to the rest of the floors.”
The building also houses 200 juvenile inmates, but the penal section of the structure, which is bifurcated from the rest of the building by concrete, remains untouched by flooding.
However, Houston isn’t the only Texas city with a justice system crippled by flooding. The courthouse and city hall of nearby Rockport County are also under more than 2 feet of water, according to Mayor Charles Wax.
“It’s bad and it’s not getting better as the rain is still continuing,” Wax told the LA Times. “All over, the city is devastated.”
At the makeshift Houston magistrate courts, the situation is grim.
“If we don’t do something soon, it’ll be toast,” Daniel said.
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