Through the creation of independent commissions, Hays County leaders hope to find ways to improve and overhaul its taxed criminal justice system in order to support its growing populace.
That was the result of an hours-long closed door summit that brought nearly all facets of the system together Friday at the Hays County Government Center.
While specifics were few on the creation of the commission, Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra said during a press conference it was important for all levels of the justice system to come together and discuss the issues.
“Our biggest task has been to come together without judging departments or offices, but to come with an open mind and to share what’s been going on in our community,” Becerra said. “We are doing our very best to move forward with this message of unity for residents of this county.”
Alex Villalobos, Hays County chief of staff, said county leaders identified areas where the criminal justice system could be more efficient, as well as talk about areas where they could “recapture dollars and reinvest them back into the system.”
Participants in the summit included those in the Hays County Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney’s office, Justices of the Peace, all municipal police departments and even bail bondsmen. During the summit, law enforcement officials looked at data that included statewide trends of public defender offices, as well as staffing issues faced by the HCSO.
According to county data, Hays County’s jail has seen an 82 percent rise in its incarceration rate.
The primary idea, however, was creation of the commission, which is expected to do the “lions share” of crafting ways for the county to be more efficient in its criminal justice processes, Villalobos said. County officials anticipate creating a commission to address different aspects of the criminal justice system and improving it.
What specific departments or areas that might warrant a commission is unknown at this time. Villalobos said it was “premature” to identify every spot or facet the county aims to focus on, as well as too early to determine where the county could reallocate dollars from.
Crafting and appointing members of the commission will happen pretty quickly, Villalobs said. Several people who have “years of experience” in various areas of the criminal justice system have already volunteered their services, he said.
Becerra and county leaders are also expected to discuss the item further during Tuesday’s commissioners court meeting.
“The most important thing is that everyone was engaged and everyone provided ideas for better efficiency,” Villalobos said. “They also identified ways we could engage and work with each other a little better.”