Criminal Justice group to hear proposal for free jail population study

Anita Miller

When the Hays County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee is gaveled into order for the first time in seven months tomorrow, one of the items for their consideration will come in the form of a letter signed by 14 pastors urging committee members to take advantage of an offer from a nonprofit research agency.

The Vera Institute a 60-year-old national organization, has offered its services free of charge in conducting a study on the county jail and its inmate population. Among other things, the study would improve data collection analysis that should augment the county’s efforts to reform the criminal justice system.

Specifically the Commission, whose members include Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe and Pct. 3 Commissioner Lon Shell, asks the county to accept a Memorandum of Understanding (MOI) between the county and the Institute. It reads in part:

“There is an urgent need to track jail population statistics more regularly and more granularly, o pride information that policymakers and the public alike need in order to understand what drives growth, or decline, of our county jail population, as well as to guide and track reform.”

Calling the Vera Institute “a non-partisan, national nonprofit comprised of data-science experts” with training in statistics and analysis,” something the letter suggests could be accomplished with the assistance of a recently-hired graduate of Texas State University,” and characterizes the opportunity offered by the Vera Institute “far too beneficial for our county  to pass up.”

Criminal Justice reform was a priority for County Judge Ruben Becerra, whose attempt to set up a new panel to review the issue failed to gather sufficient support when the Democrat assumed office in January 2019. Becerra and Ingalsbe are the only two Democrats on the five-person commissioners court.

Even as the county is engaged in enlarging and modernizing its lockup, the practice of outsourcing inmates has continued unabated. Though some low-level offenders were released due to the COVID-19 pandemic, daily admissions, which had sunk to single digits some days, have more recently increased. On May 34, 24 individuals were boded into the jail and the day prior, there were 11.

The existing Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee last met in October. Though there was a meeting scheduled earlier this spring it was postponed due to the coronavirus.

Thursday’s meeting will be accomplished via Zoom. It will be held at 2 p.m. via https://zoom.us/j/9108032857.

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