Hays County Commissioners Court Discuss Criminal Justice Summit, Commission

By, Terra Rivers, Managing Editor

On Tuesday, March 12, the Hays County Commissioners Court received a summary of the Criminal Justice Summit and discussed the “newly formed” Criminal Justice Commission.

The court opened with a presentation from Hays County Chief of Staff, Alex Villalobos, who gave commissioners an overview of the issues discussed during the summit, which was held behind closed doors last week.

The event brought representatives from law enforcement agencies throughout the county, district and court-at-law judges, attorneys and many others together.

Villalobos said the summit was a “cost assessment with very narrow operations to identify an opportunity to recapture dollars.”

The assessment showed data from the Fiscal Year 2014 to the Fiscal Year 2018; the presentation showed the percent of increase in operating costs the county has experienced since Fiscal Year 2014.

In FY 2018, the county showed a 73 percent increase in total FYE costs; the county spent $16,315,681 of its FY budget in operating costs for the jail division alone.

According to the agenda, the jail division attributed to only $9,443,167 of the county’s overall budget in FY 2014. Of the total FYE Cost in 2018, $4,631,605.50 were out of county costs.

The presentation detailed the daily average population of the Hays County Jail in comparison to previous years.

In FY 2018, Hays County saw a total daily average inmate population of 553 inmates; 317 inmates were housed in the county while 236 were outsourced to other jails.

The Hays County Jail, in its current state, has a capacity of 362; however, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards recommends 10 percent of the jail’s beds remain open.

Possession of Marijuana < 2 ounces, Assault Causes Bodily Injury Family Member, Driving While Intoxicated, Possession of a Controlled Substance Penalty Group 1 < 1g, theft of property >= $100 < $750 and Driving W/ License Invalid W/ Previous Conviction/Suspension/W/O Fin Res were the top six offenses law enforcement saw arrests to convictions for from 2013 to 2017.  

“The one issue that we see across the board is that from 2014 to 2018, Hays County has seen an increased population of 16 percent,” Villalobos said. “But we’ve also seen that our incarceration rate in days has increased by 82 percent.”

Villalobos said the summit included discussions on potential outside resources, cite and release measures and other solutions as well as confirmed the need for a criminal justice commission.

“We have to have different perspectives,” Villalobos said. “We want it to be a well-versed commission,” which will likely involve multiple subcommittees to examine different aspects of the county’s Criminal Justice Commission.”

Villalobos said the goal was to find ways to save money and provide better service to Hays County Residents.

Judge Becerra opened a discussion on the Criminal Justice Commission to allow commissioners an opportunity to appoint or recommend “a representative of their interests” on the commission.

During the discussion, Pct. 4, Commissioner Walt Smith said he believed the county needed the commission to look at Criminal Justice reform, but he wished he had been given more input in the process other than simply appointing a representative.

“If the purpose behind this is open, honest transparency, I would have hoped that we as commissioners would have been involved in that process. As we look at this, one concern I have is we had an event on Friday…I don’t have any idea about, I wasn’t invited,” Smith said. “I wasn’t there. I don’t know how many county employees, how much time, how much effort went into this.”

Judge Becerra said the event was held behind closed doors because his office had wanted to avoid “theatrics” and “showboating” and to look at the research that had been done regarding the county’s criminal justice system.

Commissioner Ingalsbe noted that the issue was a big portion of the county’s budget and said she knows it needs to be addressed.

Ingalsbe requested the county make a detailed assessment on what it is currently spending and what it would cost to create the public defender’s office mentioned during staff’s presentation.

“I’m supportive of addressing these issues,” Smith said. “I commend you, [Judge], for addressing these issues; my concern is that for us to look at this issue, and for you to sit here and say, ‘It was deliberately closed…however, I notified you by letting you know I’m having a press conference,’ that’s disingenuous to me. I want this to be successful. That’s not the way to make this successful.”  

“It’s very important to us that we get the buy-in from the community, that we get the buy-in from the commissioner’s court…from the judges and everyone else in-between to reform this system, as our chief of staff just highlighted, is unsustainable,” Judge Becerra said. “We cannot continue business as usual. That is a fact.”

Corridor News has filed an open records request with the county for additional information regarding the commission and the summit.


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