Criminal justice solutions to be unveiled by end of month

Finding ways to improve Hays County’s criminal justice woes could be forthcoming.

Later this month, members of Hays County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee (CJCC) expect to unveil their solutions as part of a criminal justice overhaul plan.

Hays County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee Chair and Pct. 3 commissioner Lon Shell has overseen several meetings in recent months to determine solutions to the county’s problems. The committee has two representatives from the commissioners court and several representatives from across the county.

“We’re figuring out the best way to move forward,” Shell said. “You can expect to see several items presented at the commissioners court meetings in coming weeks.”

Shell said there are three main issues the committee plans to address in the coming weeks and will attempt to get those solutions approved by the court. The issues include implementing and enforcing cite-and-release practices, hiring another pre-trial supervision officer and collaborating with the Texas Indigent Defense Council to get qualified defenders for detained persons without U.S. citizenship.

“These are our ideas for lowering the inmate population,” Shell said. “The goal isn’t just to save money, it’s to create a more efficient system.”

Hays County does have a cite-and-release protocol. However, Hays County Chief of Staff Alex Villalobos said the county only reports a handful of cite-and-release cases annually.

Shell said the county would investigate why police are not using this practice should the court vote to use the method as a solution.

Additionally, the county has only one pre-trial supervision officer hired. The person in this position monitors the status of detained individuals and can aid in their temporary release before going to trial.

Shell said he hopes the court is able to implement these solutions swiftly, but said there is no official plan outlined for each option yet.

A slow-moving and expensive criminal justice system has been a tumultuous topic for Hays County commissioners and residents for several years. In May, Hays County Pct. 5 Justice of the Peace Scott Cary said some residents have been detained in jail for months without a court date planned due to the slow nature of the system.

Residents have protested for grants to go toward public defense and county leaders reinstated the criminal justice committee.

In May, County Judge Ruben Becerra presented a grant application for public defense to the commissioners a week before its due date, ultimately leading to the proposal’s rejection.

Shell said that regarding the grant, no efforts have been put toward applying for next year, but the committee will discuss it as a possibility and deem whether it is a viable option.

The grant is not likely to be ignored going forward. Becerra said at a previous meeting he intends to complete the application for 2020.

Becerra said the county’s criminal justice system is working at a pace he “cannot appreciate” and promised citizens that the grant application would not die on his part.

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