McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna is adding to the county’s jail overcrowding problem through policy changes and stiff plea bargain offers that make it hard to settle cases quickly, local defense attorneys said Tuesday.Even a supporter of Reyna's on the commissioners courts worried that "we have a problem with the jail (costs) that’s going to make us or break us." That's not only a theoretical concern: "Based on current trends, the cost of housing overflow inmates outside the McLennan County Jail may reach $5.6 million in the current fiscal year — $2.6 million more than budgeted — which could exhaust contingency funds or require cuts in other areas, county officials have said." Before the new DA took office, local jail populations were declining.
Reyna, a Republican elected in 2010 promising to be tough on crime, responded by calling many of the complaints “laughable” and “patently false.”
The fight unfolded in front of the commissioners court after Commissioner Kelly Snell invited defense attorneys to air their frustrations with the criminal justice process. Some county officials, including County Judge Scott Felton, have said Reyna’s tough-on-crime policies have contributed to a rise in the jail population and the associated costs of feeding and housing inmates.
Those policies prevent cases from being resolved quickly, increasing the time defendants stay in jail awaiting trial, several defense attorneys said Tuesday.
Examples include refusing to let defense attorneys see case files prior to an indictment, offering tough initial plea deals that most defendants reject, and requiring pretrial “announcement” hearings that often are unproductive, the attorneys said.
DA Reyna may poo poo his own role in jail crowding and related tax hikes, but policy changes at his office are the only identifiable reason that explains what's going on. A dismissive attitude is not sufficient to counter data-driven criticism that his tuff-on-crime posturing is increasingly getting tougher on McLennan County taxpayers.