Delia Garza’s life as Travis County Lawyer is rather a lot totally different than when she sat on Austin’s Metropolis Council. However the one factor that has stayed constant, she stated, is that no two days look alike.
Since Garza took on the position of county legal professional earlier this yr, she has been capable of dive deep into the world of legal justice reform, a private ardour that stemmed from her time sitting on Metropolis Council’s Judicial Committee and Public Security Committee.
“It was born from seeing the disparity in arrests and seeing (how) people who find themselves arrested for what are basically crimes of poverty are handled within the legal justice system,” she stated. “Now on this job, I see how these individuals who can’t afford psychological well being care find yourself within the legal justice system … so it’s been good to have the ability to actually dig into the insurance policies and the processes and attempt to discover methods to handle a few of these actually huge challenges.”
Whereas Garza has been as much as rather a lot this yr, one among her largest successes to date was implementing an early case overview course of – a systemic change that had been mentioned for many years however was not adopted in Travis County till this yr.
The early case overview program streamlines and expedites the judicial course of. If a person is arrested for against the law, the Travis County Lawyer’s Workplace will now overview the case inside 48 hours of the arrest to resolve if the case will probably be dismissed or prosecuted. Beforehand, a case was reviewed and probably dismissed solely after it was magistrated, placed on the docket after which filed. It was an inefficient course of that saved individuals in jail for lengthy durations of time for circumstances that might finally be dismissed.
Due to the brand new coverage, in Garza’s first six months in office, the typical size of jail stays fell from 35 days (from January 2020 to June 2020) to 17 days (from January 2021 t0 June 2021). In the identical interval, the typical variety of days between when an offense was dedicated to the date of the case’s dismissal fell from 112 to 23. Whereas case overview isn’t taking place 24 hours a day simply but, that’s one among Garza’s targets for the brand new yr.
Garza’s mindset is reform-oriented; she is making an attempt to vary the tradition of the legal justice system, which is presently a revolving door for individuals who lack entry to sources like housing, remedy and psychological well being care.
“As a substitute of investing in job coaching and well being clinics in jails, we should be investing in job coaching and well being clinics exterior of jails,” Garza stated. “This job is about public security. It’s about ensuring that individuals that needs to be in jail are in jail as a result of they pose a risk to others or perhaps to themselves. Lots of people in our jails don’t match that description; they’re individuals who actually simply need assistance.”
As Garza enters her second yr as county legal professional, she is going to proceed to advocate for jail diversion applications for higher psychological well being sources exterior of jail. This yr, she had success increasing the eligibility necessities for the DWI diversion program. This system, designed for individuals who had been arrested for driving whereas intoxicated, retains the conviction off of contributors’ information so long as they full this system, which incorporates counseling and passing a breathalyzer check.
In 2020, 149 individuals had been accepted to the DWI diversion program. After increasing the necessities this yr, 510 individuals had been accepted to this system.
“I’m not doing my job of creating certain public security is a precedence if we’re including convictions to individuals’s information, which might have an effect on their means to get housing, to get a job, or the incomes potential for his or her households,” Garza defined.
Whereas she acknowledges the challenges concerned in shifting the needle, the accomplishments she’s made in yr one have made Garza really feel “extremely optimistic” in her efforts to push for extra change.
“We simply should be extra proactive about how we assist individuals and understand that, when individuals’s primary wants are met, you’ll not see jail inhabitants growing,” Garza stated. “I didn’t develop up with some huge cash, however I grew up with wealth in help. We didn’t have rather a lot, however I had two dad and mom who cared and confirmed up – and so many individuals in our neighborhood don’t have that. The extra we are able to do to assist these individuals, the extra we will probably be addressing public security.”
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Posted In: Travis County
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