More than half of the 11,500 inmates crammed into Houston’s Harris County Jail have not been found guilty of a crime but await their day in court confined with convicted criminals in conditions that repeatedly flunk state and federal safety inspections, the Houston Chronicle reports. The most common accusation: possession of a crack pipe or minuscule amount of drugs. Though the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to a speedy trial, at least 500 inmates have been locked up for more than a year as they wait to be judged.
About 1,200 have been jailed six months or more though many face only minor felony charges, such as bouncing checks, credit card fraud, trespassing or even civil violations. Around 200 inmates appear to already have served more than the minimum sentence for the crime they allegedly committed. Harris County faces the threat of a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit over inhumane and unsafe conditions in its jails, chock full of low-level drug offenders. About a third of all county jail inmates face drug possession charges.