Hays County will implement a cite and divert program starting Sept. 1, the sheriff's office announced Wednesday.
The decision to move forward with the program comes after more than a year of discussion.
Cite and divert makes it easier for people charged with low-level offenses to avoid jail time or a permanent record. Under a cite-and-divert program, people who receive citations wouldn’t have to be booked at the jail at all; instead, they could meet with a prosecutor to see if they’re eligible to take an educational course or complete community service.
Criminal justice advocates have said this program would help alleviate the over-criminalization Black and Hispanic residents in Hays County. The City of San Marcos urged the county to implement the program at a special meeting in June.
“This program will give the deputies another option in dealing with a criminal case. The deputy will now have the discretion to use Cite and Release or Cite and Divert but can always make an arrest if he/she deems it appropriate," Sheriff Gary Cutler said in a statement. "I believe the program is of utmost importance, because while it maintains the discretion of our officers, it will also aid us in our efforts to reduce the number of persons being brought to the jail for processing and housing.”
The program will apply to all law enforcement agencies in the county.
Mano Amiga, a local grassroots criminal justice reform group, says it has been urging the county to implement a cite-and-divert program for two years. The organization was part of the effort that got a similar program, called cite and release, signed into law in San Marcos.
"We thank subcommittee chair Alex Villalobos & Commissioner Lon Shell for guiding this positive step forward in reducing excessive criminalization and jailing,” Eric Martinez, the group's policy director, said in a statement Wednesday. “But we urge the county to provide counsel for defendants, so no one is forced to speak directly to a prosecutor without advice from an attorney.”
Mano Amiga said it had collected 1,200 signatures in a petition campaign in support of the program.
The group asked Hays County to be transparent about the program and to collect data to show it’s being implemented equitably. It also asked for alternatives to in-person meetings given the threat posed by COVID-19.
This story has been updated.
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