“Echoing these calls across the country to defund the police, what we’re saying is that we should look at reinvesting the [more than] $51 million devoted to law enforcement in Hays County—to look at ... cost-effective, prudent programs and initiatives that actually bring bigger justice to the residents of Hays County,” Mano Amiga co-founder Jordan Buckley said.
The grassroots organization seeks to begin a conversation and reflect on how to better allocate law enforcement funds on community programs. In fiscal year 2019-20, the county adopted a budget of $383 million, 18.58% higher than the year before, to focus on criminal justice and public safety, according to county documents.
In 2018, the county paid $4.3 million to outsource inmates to other Texas counties, up 6,895% from 2014, according to a Community Impact Newspaper report. Mano Amiga is urging the Hays County Commissioners Court to reinvest the over $4 million spent in outsourcing inmates and the budget devoted to law enforcement to fund restorative programs.
Multiple programs that could be adopted at a county level, such as a law enforcement assisted division, or LEAD, program, a public defender’s office and a pretrial services office, will be at the center of the conversation during Mano Amiga's rally 3 p.m. June 6 at the Hays County Historic Courthouse calling for action to reinvest law enforcement funds.
The LEAD program would be for higher-level offenses and would address the root cause of criminal offense through mental health care, treatment for drug abuse, housing, job training and placement.
On the heels of endless discussions without formal resolutions from the Hays County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee to come to a consensus on a cite-and-divert policy, establishing a public defender's office to provide legal representation to indigent defendants or a pretrial services office that would, in some instances, help defendants be released as they are in pretrial status instead of awaiting trial in jail, the grassroots organization will be taking their plea for reinvesting in community programs to the streets.
As of June 4, more than 400 Hays County residents have confirmed their support for the event and have marked their interest in going or confirmed their attendance on Facebook.
Mano Amiga, which played a key role in pushing for the first cite-and-release ordinance in the city of San Marcos and in Texas, is now calling for action to reinvest county funds, and people are listening.
Other policies that Mano Amiga has been pushing for include cite-and-divert. This program would be similar to cite-and-release in that individuals would get cited for low-level offenses, but different in that individuals would be diverted from the court system to the district attorney's office to meet with a prosecutor. If the individual meets the requirements, the DA would then decide what diversion program the individual is required to complete to avoid a criminal record.
Cite-and-divert would be “beneficial to the community because it diverts them out of the system altogether,” according to Anita Gupta, a staff attorney at Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
Gupta added that under the current cite-and-release model going through the court system can often end up subject to "high fines and fees, which are very cost[-prohibitive] for low-income folks and end up disproportionately harming vulnerable communities, like communities of color.”
On June 17, the criminal justice coordinating committee will be meeting to continue discussion on criminal justice reforms.
Editor's note: The headline and content of this story have been updated since the original post.