The post looks like a sick joke. Beneath a picture of the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center downtown, y’know, that place where all kinds of “justice” happens, the official Tarrant Count account makes an announcement: “FREE COVID-19 Vaccines.”
Sounds reasonable. Who wouldn’t want a free vaccine? (Don’t answer that.) But when you consider all the COVID-related damage done nextdoor at the Tarrant County Jail, the post assumes an ominous sheen.
“How oblivious can these people be?” one local community leader told us.
Four Tarrant County Jail inmates died from COVID-19-related complications in 2020, according to reporting by the Star-Telegram. In December, 81 Tarrant County jailers tested positive for COVID-19 within one week, which only hinted at the unreported inmate infection rate at the time.
More than a year of scathing media reports of inmate neglect appear to have changed how jailed defendants are now treated, at least when it comes to preventing COVID-19 infections. Tarrant County Jail officials recently reported zero COVID-19 cases at their facility, according to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
“From the beginning of the pandemic, it was clear that densely packed prisons and jails — the result of decades of mass incarceration in the U.S. — offered ideal conditions for the transmission of the coronavirus,” read a recent report by the Prison Policy Initiative, a nonpartisan nonprofit that raises awareness of how over-criminalization harms individuals and U.S. communities. “Several months later, the virus has claimed thousands of lives behind bars and infected 1 out of every 5 people in prison.”
Health care workers at the downtown building are offering free COVID-19 inoculations to walk-ins on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons for the indefinite future, according to the post. A county spokesperson said the justice center was chosen because it offers an easy way for county employees to enjoy the benefits of inoculation against the virus that has caused the death of more than 580,000 Americans.
Vaccinating government employees and walk-ins at the home of the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office and numerous criminal courtrooms and judges offices likely appears insensitive at best and borderline asinine at worst to the inmates and friends and family of Tarrant County Jail inmates, who have seen how callous our county behaves when it comes to humanely treating innocent (i.e., pretrial) defendants waiting for their day in court. The Tim Curry building is where all the inhumane decisions on how to mistreat inmates are made.
Last summer, volunteers with the grassroots group United Fort Worth sought the compassionate release of nonviolent offenders from Tarrant County Jail. Their requests were ignored by the county sheriff, who oversees the jail, so the group began bailing out nonviolent Black and Hispanic inmates who had low bail amounts through the Tarrant County Community Bail Fund.
The choice of the justice center for mass inoculation reflects our local political culture. It is worth remembering that Sheriff Bill Waybourn said migrants facing DUI charges will “run over your children.” When asked about the death of Javonte Myers, the 28-year-old Black man who died in Tarrant County Jail last year, DA Sharen Wilson said, “Yes, homeless people who commit crimes are prosecuted in Tarrant County.”
Myers, who was homeless much of his short adult life, was charged with trespassing, a crime that criminalizes poverty in Tarrant County (“White Customer, Black Trespasser,” Aug 2020).
Three of Tarrant County’s five commissioners who happen to be old, white, and conservative have consistently supported collaborating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), even though immigration enforcement is handled by federal agencies — not local municipalities. Tarrant County’s leadership is by and large a cesspool of conservative notions that are more closely aligned with the values of the Jim Crow South than the progressive ideals that are moving this country forward — one landslide presidential election victory over a wannabe dictator at a time.
Vaccinating Tarrant County’s population is an incredibly important task. Many Walgreens and CVS locations are now accepting walk-ins for vaccination. Locals should consider signing up for the vax through Tarrant County Public Health’s online vaccine registration portal. Do anything you can do to get vaccinated. By avoiding partaking in the vaccinations at the Tim Curry Justice Center, civic-minded locals can stand in solidarity with the nearly 3,000 innocent Tarrant County Jail defendants who were never given the option of compassionate or early release during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A spokesperson for the local sheriff’s office said Tarrant County Jail inmates are offered COVID-19 vaccinations through a partnership with JPS Health Network.