A note from a San Marcos Resident.
I love this city. I’ve spent over fifteen years here. First, as an undergraduate student at Texas State University, then as a graduate student. I started my first company here. Met the love of my life here. Partied here. Meditated here. Mourned here.
This is my community, my county. The place where I’ve set my roots. And a place that is in desperate need of change.
The city of San Marcos, TX is known for its connection to the idyllic hill country, the sprawl of its picturesque state-protected river, the epic growth of Texas State University — and its overpopulated county jail.
The San Marcos Daily Record has steadily noted the impact of this overpopulation on the county’s budget. Nearly $300,000 in the month of January 2019 alone, to “outsource” and send Hays county inmates to other counties. Very often, some of the inmates being sent to other counties are Hays county citizens. How do I know? I was once a Hays county inmate.
The creation of a criminal justice commission to address this issue, by the Hays County Commissioner’s Court, is definitely a step in the right direction. But it still doesn’t address what can be easily seen as one of the biggest issues with this overpopulation — the poorest people in this county lack adequate representation and they are the ones who end up staying in jail the longest.
While most of the country has a hard time keeping even $500 in their savings accounts, a recent Appleseed report revealed that incarcerated individuals could face up to $466 in total costs from fees for a simple traffic infraction in Hays County. It means that people who are arrested in this county who do not make at least $40,000 a year are the most at-risk when it comes to being able to afford even the initial costs associated with incarceration, let alone decent representation.
A Public Defender’s Office could at least help with the representation aspect. Having an office dedicated to representing indigent cases could save the county a significant amount of money by lowering the number of people waiting in pre-trial detention and, by default, help solve the Hays’ County Jail overpopulation problem.
A Public Defender’s Office would be an alternative to overworked court-appointed attorneys, allowing low-income defendants to receive thorough support beyond just at sentencing.
With a Mental Health Public Defender to represent individuals with mental health concerns by connecting them with adequate services, the Jail would literally stop serving as our largest mental-health provider in Hays County.
A Juvenile Public Defender would represent indigent youth and their parents. Currently, Hays County has a large backlog of uncompleted and unresolved juvenile cases due to the fact that it’s hard to find qualified attorneys who can practice juvenile law for the rate Hays County pays.
An Immigration (Padilla) Public Defender would ensure non-citizens have their constitutional rights protected and that they are properly informed of consequences from plea decisions on their immigration status, as required under the law.
Counsel at Magistration would ensure that all defendants have a lawyer present the FIRST time they see a judge, someone to help ascertain the probable cause for charges brought against the accused, which could reduce a bond or result in a release from jail with charges dropped.
A Public Defender that covers 15% of all indigent misdemeanor and felony cases coming through Hays County for a given year could save us serious money and manpower.
As someone who has experienced the horror of living in pre-trial detention for 45 days in the Hays County jail for charges associated with a $25 bounced check I wrote for groceries…I KNOW that a Public Defender would have helped me find a much better solution to my case and help prevent me from having my whole world turned upside down.
I was a struggling college student nine years ago. I strive to be an active community member now. I KNOW what a simple mistake can do to your employment opportunities here in Hays County; to your sense of self-worth and your overall spirit.
I made a mistake. Sometimes, people make mistakes. Ones they can never take back and can never change — but that doesn’t make them bad people. That makes them human. I am a human and a member of this community.
The people who are losing their jobs and homes — wasting away in the Hays County Jail while they wait for a court date — are fellow humans and members of this community.
They lack the resources they desperately need and it sometimes doesn’t matter how many hours of overtime they work. It doesn’t matter how many degrees they have. No matter how much they sacrifice — it’s never enough.
Sometimes, people really just need other people to help back them up in their darkest hour. They need adequate representation; they need defenders.
I urge the Hays County Commission to consider the people that make up this diverse and growing region when voting on May 7, 2019, to get a Public Defender’s Office moving forward. Especially with a state commission offering to cover half the costs of the office over the first four years of enactment.
In particular, I hope for Commissioner Lon Shell to show up for the community. He has clearly invested a lot of time into researching our criminal justice system, but we have not yet seen any visible sign of his support for cost-saving, life-giving, prudent reforms. Now is a superb opportunity.
As Mr. Shell, and indeed all members of the Commission, reflect on the countless advantages of a Public Defender’s office, I urge them to consider the lasting decision will have on those who currently do and will soon call this growing county “Home!” for years to come.
I urge Hays County Commissioners to step up and be the heroes we need. Be the courageous leaders we always hope that you are.
Vote YES on Tuesday for a Public Defender’s Office in 2020.
Vote YES for us — your people.