The criminal justice system in Travis County may be fair and just when it comes to the wealthy. But if you are poor or you are a person of color, it works as designed—it works against us. The Travis County criminal legal system works against the poor by putting a price on a person’s freedom through the use of the cash bail system. The Travis County criminal legal system works against people of color by disproportionately arresting black people in Travis County at a higher rate. According to Community Advancement Network, black people make up 8 percent of the population in Travis County and 23 percent of the bookings in Travis County jail. All the while, those who can afford cash bail, are less likely to end up with a conviction or serve time in jail or prison.
As your next Travis County Attorney, I will aim to change all of that, and pursue a fairer, more just, more accountable criminal legal system for everyone in our county, and not just the select privileged few.
The goal of any county attorney office should be to keep the community safe. But here in Travis, none of us can be safe when poor people are shuffled in and out of our county jail for minor offenses— when jail does nothing more than disrupt whatever stability a person has. None of us can be safe when a victim of family violence is too scared to prosecute a case because she fears deportation. None of us can be safe when a sex worker refuses to talk to a prosecutor about an assault because he or she fears being arrested.
I envision a Travis County where we use our resources to prosecute those that have escaped the attention of the authorities for too long—and we stop prosecuting people for crimes that their wealthy counterparts can just buy their way out of.
The criminal justice system has destroyed too many of our families, our neighbors, and our community to let it continue as it has. The office must be transparent, and must work internally and externally to fight racism and institutional bias. Police should be treated as equally as any other person—and any officer who has lied in the past shouldn’t be a witness, but instead should be charged with perjury. All policies will be public, data will be available, and people living in communities that are often forgotten by elected officials will be empowered to work with me side by side in creating a county attorney’s office that keeps us all safe.
We must strive to have all people treated equally in Travis County.
Any contact with the criminal justice system can have devastating consequences. The county attorney’s office prosecutes misdemeanors. And to that end, we must make sure that any encounter with a police officer for a misdemeanor offense does not result in unnecessary days or weeks in jail. We must also make sure resolutions to a misdemeanor offense does not lead to deportation or negatively affect a person’s immigration status.
These consequences are often particularly devastating for a poor person, who far too often here in Travis are the ones dealing with misdemeanor arrests and long stays in our jails for no other reason than being poor. I will end cash bail for misdemeanors in Travis County. No one should be held in our jail charged with a misdemeanor simply because their wallet is not big enough.
Creating a fair and just system in Travis County means never forgetting that people accused of wrongdoing are afforded the presumption of innocence in our legal system. Pretrial release on misdemeanor cases will be the default unless the person is a danger to the community or a flight risk. Additional conditions of release will be utilized when appropriate to ensure the safety of the community.
Severe racial disparities exist in who is arrested and prosecuted in Travis County. I will work to end this. I will not prosecute crimes where people of color are more likely to be arrested, charged, and convicted even when research shows that criminal activity is the same across all races. To that end, I will not prosecute marijuana possession, criminal trespass, misdemeanor drug possession, driving while license suspended, or sex work. Theft cases will be handled through a pre-trial diversion program that is aimed at restitution—not on getting fines and fees from a person before the restitution is even paid.
My office will not request a misdemeanor probation sentence of longer than 180 days. We will limit the number of cases where probation is offered, and we will object to a person being held in jail on a probation violation when the violation is a missed appointment or missed class.
Using Resources Wisely
We will use our resources to best serve our entire community. We will not waste valuable resources on jail call and prosecuting quality of life offenses. The money and time we will save not prosecuting these cases will allow Travis County to devote resources where they should be- in treatment, housing, and services. Of the approximately 23,000 cases filed in 2018, about 2000 were assault family violence, and about 5500 were DUIs. We need to devote our resources to ensuring justice is done on those cases, and divert our resources towards treatment, housing, and services.
Internally, we will focus on making sure that crimes like assault family violence, violation of protective orders, DUIs, and other crimes against a person are prioritized and that we work to reduce recidivism as much as possible. We will advocate for evidence-based treatment, and solutions that we know work- not the cycle of incarceration- to handle these serious cases.
We’re safer when we protect our most vulnerable.
We will not prosecute sex workers or those who engage in services with them- a woman has every right to choose what to do with her body. Our focus on these women engaged in sex work, and our failed “Phoenix Court” diversion program has done nothing but ensure that sex workers do not report crimes like assault and theft to the police for fear of prosecution. That practice will end in my office.
Every day in Travis County, undocumented people are taken advantage of by employers, partners, and others who hold power over them. We will protect workers who are not paid for work and services provided and hold employers criminally accountable when these crimes occur. We will work to ensure that non-citizens and undocumented people feel safe reporting crimes, and to ensure we keep families together. An undocumented person charged with a crime who wants to take responsibility for their actions can do so off-the-record. We will not cooperate with ICE, and if ICE is in the courthouse our prosecutors will be instructed not to communicate with ICE agents who do not have a warrant.
Travis County, in the name of helping people, incarcerates people who have a mental health issue but are not competent to stand trial. Those people are then sent to a state hospital, pending trial. Because they are only charged with misdemeanors, the longest they can be held is six months. At the end of the six months, most people’s cases are dismissed. Instead of institutionalizing people who are simply going to be released, when someone is found incompetent the case will be dismissed and a referral for services will be made. If a person is a danger to the community or to themselves, civil commitment proceedings are the appropriate path.
Access is not just for the powerful.
Our office will be accountable to the people of Travis County. Data tracking arrest rates, charge rates, and case dispositions based on both race and location of arrest in Travis County will be collected and made publicly available on our website. I will make sure that everyone in our county has access to information and data to be able to see if and how we are making progress in ending racial disparities relating to charging decisions, sentencing, and whether my promise to end cash bail for misdemeanors is being upheld.
To ensure accountability, I will create a community advisory board of immigrants, impacted people, policy experts, and activists who I will work with to ensure my policies are consistent with what the community needs. All budget requests made by my office, and all policies, will be approved by this board before I move forward.
Learn more about the County Attorney's duties
The Travis County Attorney's Office handles a wide range of legal issues concerning our community in Travis County including prosecuting all misdemeanor offenses, obtaining protective orders for victims of domestic abuse, representing and defending Travis County and its officials in civil matters, and enforce environmental compliance matters in Travis County. For more information, please visit the Travis County Attorney's Office website.