Cite-and-release is an option I continue to consider. However, for such a policy to significantly lower jail population, it would also have to be adopted by the Houston Police Department (which provides 60% of our jail bookings) and the many other agencies that bring inmates to the jail. If officers on patrol had the authority to collect DNA and/or fingerprints at the scene of such a case before issuing a citation, this would go a long way toward raising the public's comfort level with cite-and-release.As I mentioned in the comments at the Tribune, I have no idea what Sheriff Garcia means in his letter about the "public" accepting the summons idea. There has been nobody publicly opposing the idea except Garcia himself! Not to mention, he's making the process a lot more difficult than it needs to be if he's waiting for deputies to take fingerprints and DNA swabs in the field before implementing the program. Other jurisdictions have developed processes for handling those details and Garcia could mimic their systems if he tried.
OTOH, I do agree that the Sheriff's department implementing cite-and-summons alone wouldn't make as big a difference as Houston PD doing so. But leadership matters and there's precedent to believe that if the Sheriff takes such a step, other law enforcement agencies may follow his lead. In Travis County, the Sheriff implemented a B-misdemeanor summons policy first and then the municipal police in Austin began issuing Class B citations after the Sheriff demonstrated it could work. Other jurisdictions across the state have made the switch, often with the sheriff taking the lead because only the sheriff has direct responsibility for an overcrowded jail.
For that matter, Sheriff Garcia is a former city councilman and has ample connections within city government. When he wanted to expand his jail he had no qualms about going to city government and asking them to partner on a new facility. Why not go to Mayor Annise Parker and say, "We need you to join us in implementing summons for B misdemeanors to solve our jail overcrowding problems"? Perhaps the Sheriff doesn't think that's his role, or perhaps that's supposed to happen through the county's fledgling Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, but somebody, somewhere, needs to demonstrate some leadership and focus more on results than excuse making.
It's not all Garcia's fault; for the most part all of the main drivers of jail overcrowding in Houston have been going on for many years and most of them are beyond his control. I've just heard too many excuses for inaction coupled with demands for more jail building, and at this particular moment in the county's history that's not good enough anymore.
UPDATE: Grissom has more from the hearing.
Related Grits posts:
- Lower utilization by 'frequent flyers' to reduce pressure on jail
- Proposed mental health wing at Harris jail raises question of treatment priorities
- Sheriffs more likely than PDs to welcome new arrest discretion
- Jefferson County works out kinks with new police cite and summons authority
- Nuts and bolts of citations for low-level misdemeanors explained by Travis Sheriff's Office