The Hays County Commissioners Court unanimously approved the public defender’s office contract with Neighborhood Defender Service Inc. Nov. 22, about three months after the contract was supposed to be ready for approval. The contract is in place until Sept. 30, 2027, after which it can be renewed for another five years, and totals to $11.28 million, or about $2.26 annually.

The commissioners approved $5 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds in August 2021 to fund the office, while the remainder will need to be budgeted for during the county's annual budget process.

If the county fails to allocate funding during each budgeting cycle, they will have 60 days to notify NDS of the terminated contract, according to agenda documents.

"NDS will be assigned up to the equivalent of 1,434 misdemeanor cases annually over the term of this contract for years 2-5," the contract reads. "A misdemeanor counts as one misdemeanor case, and a felony counts as 1.87 misdemeanor cases."

The cases will be prorated for the first, partial year the contract is in place.

While the county has an indigent defense department, the commissioners have approved numerous agreements with counties throughout the state to house inmates the county jail does not have room for, despite a completed expansion that nearly doubled the capacity.

The commissioners court also has a standing agenda items each meeting to discuss the inmate population as well as the costs associated with housing each inmate both in the county and in other counties.

As of Nov. 19, 83% of the Hays County Jail inmate population is being held pretrial, meaning those individuals are still awaiting their trails and are legally innocent. Of those being held pretrial, 43% have been in jail for one to six months.

A former inmate of the Hays County Jail is Cyrus Gray III, who was incarcerated for nearly five years pretrial.

"It was not a good time, to say the least," Gray said during public comment at the meeting. "What the time did was inspire me to advocate for men and women who, unfortunately, are and have been experiencing the same thing I had."

He went on to say that during his time in jail, he witnessed many inmates go months, even a year, without hearing from their court-appointed attorneys.

"With such a lack of resources and overload of cases, the fault is not entirely on the court-appointed attorneys," Gray said. "It is the system [as a] whole."

This will be Gray's first Thanksgiving with family since 2017, he said.

"I'm sorry we failed you," Judge Ruben Becerra said, holding back tears during the meeting. "I will continue to fight for you and everyone else that is voiceless in our community."

To read the whole contract, click here.