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New department aims to shrink jail population

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Even after the recent expansion of the Hays County Jail, inmates are still outsourced to other counties due to overcrowding. It is an issue that has been ongoing for years, and Hays County has been working to reduce those numbers, as well as the associated expenditures that go with it. There is a relatively new department dedicated to doing just that. The Hays County Commissioners Court received a presentation on the status of the Judicial Services Department in the county at the regularly scheduled meeting last week.

Hays County Assistant Judicial Services Director Albert Sierra discussed the progress of the Judicial Services Department and will be coming into court annually to do so.

“We have now received our own terminal for TLETS [Texas Law Enforcement Telecommunication System],” Sierra said. “So we’re able to run our own criminal histories both statewide and national[ ly] … We are now also functioning on the weekends. We’re having a rotation of our officers go out and interview defendants at the jail, which in turn is increasing our release rates.”

Sierra said the Judicial Services department is now working closely with Evoke Wellness, which is a drug and alcohol treatment and mental health services program. He said they are also holding monthly meetings with the magistrate judges to ensure progress in the program. He said the department will begin assisting district courts this month.

“We are extending our services by conducting home visits … to those higher risk defendants that we have identified,” Sierra said. “The higher the risk, the more we’re going out and making contact with these people.”

Sierra said Judicial Services is working closely with the county grant writer in order to find funding for substance abuse and mental health treatment.

“We’re working diligently to find other ways to … help our department grow,” Sierra said. “We’re working closely with Texas State as well in this endeavor … especially as it pertains to our internship program. So we’re doing wonderful things guys.'

Sierra said as of Jan. 3 the Pretrial Diversion Program is operational.

“We are working closely with the [District Attorney's] office on the endeavor, and as a matter of fact, we have approximately 20 people already that are participating in that program,” Sierra said. “That program will grow exponentially.”

Hays County Commissioner Pct. 1 Debbie Ingalsbe said that the court worked really hard to develop the Pretrial Services Department, which is now called the Judicial Services Department.

“It was something that we knew was going to be very beneficial to our community and just what you all have shared, I think, proves how beneficial you all have been,” Ingalsbe said. “I really appreciate the work, and it is nice to have you all come in and give these reports. … I know you’re seeking grant funding. Hopefully that can come through, and we can provide additional services we know that are so important to our community. I know we’re working on a Diversion Center [and] there’s a lot of support for that.”

Hays County Judicial Services Supervisor Jason Facundo shared the Bond Supervision Report with the court, which covered the period from the beginning of July 2023 until the end of that year.

“The Hays County Magistrates released a total of 279 inmates during that time period. Of those 279 inmates, 117 were released via personal bond, so they didn’t have to pay anything to get out,” Facundo said, adding that the judge will place certain conditions on the inmates' release.

Facundo said anyone under the program receives text message reminders about appointments and court dates to decrease recidivism. He said during 2023, the jail averaged 330 inmates per month in Hays County and 252 that were held elsewhere.

“We released approximately 47 inmates a month,” Facundo said. “It cost approximately $135.55 to house an inmate here in Hays County and an estimated $71.50 to house someone outside of Hays County, so the overall average is $101.03.”

Facundo said of the 279 inmates, after 30 days the Judicial Services Department saved the county approximately $1.1 million.

“At 45 days — $1.6 million dollars, at 60 days — $2.1 million [and] at 90 days — $3.2 million is what … our department saved the county due to supervising the 279 clients on our caseload,” Facundo said.

Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra called himself “frugal” and said he appreciated the specific data on savings for the county.

“Most importantly [is that these inmates are] not yet found guilty,” Becerra said. “I’m genuinely not happy that our neighbors are having to be transported to the private, for-profit prison in Haskell County. I am staying peacefully quiet, but I know the commissioners know very well that I am being patient, and I am being ultra grateful for all the progress we have made as a court. And just because it seems a little cheaper to have them in a private prison, doesn’t make it right or a good fiscal decision.”

San Marcos Record

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