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Hays County files grant for holistic defense

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The Hays County Commissioners voted to submit a grant application for a holistic public defense program after a year of deliberation, planning and many more years of campaigning by local advocates.

The county will be submitting a grant for $1,085,325 by May 7 to the Texas Indigent Defense Commission (TIDC) for the Hays County Holistic Public Defense Office (PDO) and Managed Assigned Counsel (MAC) Program. 

“I’d like to thank the many people that have worked hard on this grant application and bringing us to the point we are at today,” said Debbie Ingalsbe, county commissioner and chair of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee. “This is important to so many people, and the compassion many people have regarding this. I’d like to recognize Neighborhood Defender Services of Texas, I really appreciate working with you all. The holistic program that y'all bring to the table really has intrigued me, providing many services that so many individuals will need.”

Geoffrey Burkhart, executive director of TIDC, was in attendance at the meeting and was also recognized for his support through the drafting process. 

The proposal comes from Neighborhood Defender Services (NDS), a pioneer in holistic defense in the United States, and outlines a plan for a holistic PDO and MAC Program in Hays County within a new Pretrial Services Department. 

The proposal expands pretrial services into a holistic division that provides rehabilitative opportunities and supportive measures to those released from custody, like housing and jobs resources, case management, mental health services, addiction recovery support and more.

Within the future department, the PDO would house dedicated attorneys for indigent defendants including investigators and support staff, while the Managed Assigned Counsel program would appoint private attorneys, all educated on holistic defense and available supportive resources. 

The proposal states that the PDO will provide representation for approximately 30% of felonies and 18% of misdemeanors in Hays County per year. The county anticipates that the PDO will provide specialized mental or behavioral health representation in 50% of these cases. 

The MAC will serve as a resource for court-appointed private attorneys providing representation in Hays County and who are not staff attorneys of the PDO. The MAC will assign 70% of felony cases and 82% of misdemeanor cases to court-appointed attorneys.

Local advocacy group Mano Amiga has campaigned for a non-wealth based approach to pretrial incarceration and bail for three years. They calculated that 81% of the Hays County Jail inmates in April were pre-trial detainees, meaning they are accused, not convicted of crime and could not afford bail. 

“When I did the math and realized that 81% of our jail meant nearly four hundred people, my stomach dropped,” Mano Amiga campaign fellow Sam Benavides said. “That’s four hundred people — of our community members — who are stuck sitting in cages simply because they are unable to buy their freedom.”

The grant will fund the first year of the program and a sliding scale for the following three years; the standard multi-year improvement grant fund will pay up to 80% of total project costs in the first year; 60% in the second year; 40% in the third year; and 20% in the fourth year. The total project cost is $2.256 million and requires a county matching of $451K. 

The next step after the grant is submitted will be a vote from the board of the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, scheduled for June 17.

San Marcos Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666