Hays County recently renewed its focus on the local criminal justice system to address the jail’s soaring inmate population and steep operating costs—and now the city of San Marcos is following suit.

San Marcos City Council voted unanimously May 7 to establish a committee on criminal justice reform. The committee’s charge is to review the city’s ordinances and standard operating procedures relating to criminal justice, and to come up with ways to make the city’s practices more fair and equitable.

Council members Ed Mihalkanin, Lisa Prewitt and Mark Rockeymoore were appointed to the committee.  

Prewitt and Mihalkanin said that in addition to working with the Hays County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, the newly established City Council committee will also work to see how it can improve the local criminal justice system as a municipality.

“So the county had worked on [criminal justice system reform] in 2010,” Prewitt said. “I think the fire went out and now it’s been rejuvenated. I think having the municipalities in the county where our prison system is located getting on board and starting these other committees to work with them and bringing our law enforcement into the conversation is only going to help.”

Prewitt said she would like the committee to consider measures like diversion programs.

“Say somebody gets picked up stealing something from the store,” she said. “Why are they stealing? Maybe they have an alcohol or a drug problem. Well, let’s treat the alcohol or the drug problem and not put them in prison—where their life becomes even more frustrating, more difficult; they lose their jobs, their homes and car payments and it just becomes a rippling effect.”

Mihalkanin, who initiated the establishment of the committee, said that following review of city ordinances and practices, he wants the committee to bring forward some sort of actionable plan  for the council to consider by the beginning of August—before the city’s next budget is finalized.

“There’s been a substantial conversation not only in Texas but throughout the United States about different issues concerning arrests versus ticketing, bail amounts, incarceration—its effects on lower-income people,” he said.

Council Member Joca Marquez, who was originally going to serve as a committee member, gave her seat to Rockeymoore.

Rockeymoore said he ran for City Council on a platform of criminal justice reform which is  informed by his past encounters with law enforcement.

“I can guarantee you that nobody on this dais has had as much experience with law enforcement on the other side of it than I have,” Rockeymoore said. “All of these statistics that y’all are bouncing around that are abstract are not abstract to me. That has been my life.”

Prewitt cited Hays County Jail statistics provided by County Judge Ruben Becerra at the May 7 Commissioners Court meeting. The data showed that the county spent approximately $11,328 a day in the previous week on outsourcing inmates due to overcrowding, with a peak number of 536 inmates.

“The lives that we can make better and the money that we can save in our communities—it says it right there,” Prewitt said. “[We want to look] at what we can do as a municipality to make those numbers better, I would like to see that.”