A case in point: Three people including a commenter (Thanks, David!) excitedly let me know about a TV news story today covering the GOP primary race in Hays County for District Attorney. Hays is a suburban/rural county south of Austin whose county seat is San Marcos. Both Repub candidates distanced themselves from the "merciless" approach of their predecessor to talk about diversion programs for low-level offenders, the best focus for valuable jail space and how to spend criminal justice resources to maximize safety. Reported Channel 8 News:
When it comes to prosecuting criminals, very little separates the priorities of Hays County Republican District Attorney candidates Wesley Mau and Paul Velte IV.
"We need to focus our real efforts in the trials that we do, on the hard core criminals like child molesters, rapists and murders," said Mau.
Velte agreed and said, if elected, he would spend time making room for those criminals.
"I'd get people out of jail that really don't need to be there. What we need to do is conserve jail space for the people that you and I need protection from," Velte said.
Both Velte and Mau said the current district attorney, Michael Wenk, has handled all cases, big and small, with the same merciless approach throughout his two terms. That, in addition to a growing county, has resulted in a backlog in cases both plan to address.
"I think if you manage your cases well and you work your cases early and resolve them before people arrive to court...you can reduce a whole bunch of that backlog," Velte said.
Mau agreed and said he plans to look at different techniques of moving cases through the process.
"We need to look at some of the new research on how to deal with cases and find out what's the best way to handle different kinds of crimes and rehabilitate those you're interested in rehabilitating," Mau said.
Let me tell, you, the DA's association could only benefit from more members in it who respect words like "research" and "rehabilitation" or who look at jail populations wondering who "really needs to be there" - in the past, DAs were the first ones at the Lege to fight the least reforms affecting their fiefdoms. That's how we got in this mess.
Regular readers know I've spent a lot of time gathering examples of different ways Texas counties can combat overincarceration in local jails - a problem exacerbated by overflowing state prisons, wasted beds from entrepeneurial schemes, then Hurricane Rita. At the local level, these problems may have reached a tipping point where they're simply too important to ignore any longer. Maybe that makes them safe to talk about. That both DA candidates in a GOP primary look at it that way (and they come from very different legal backgrounds) says to me there's a growing consensus in Hays County that it's time for a change in appoach.
If the Democrat in the race turns around and runs a bunch of tuff-on-crime ads against the Rs over this I'll be mad as a wet hen.