Hays County Commissioners Court Selects Neighborhood Defender Service Inc. to Lead New Public Defender’s Office
The Hays County Commissioners Court has selected Neighborhood Defender Service Inc. to lead the new Office of the Public Defender. (Zara Flores/Community Impact Journal)
Nine months after the Hays County Commissioners Court voted to allocate $5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to establish an Office of the Public Defender and after nearly an hour of discussion on 24 May, the court selected Neighborhood Defender Service Inc. as the company to establish the office that will pave the way for criminal justice.
NDS has teams in New York, Michigan, and Texas made up of investigators, paralegals, pro bono attorneys, and more who work to help and resolve underlying issues with clients that brought them into the system criminal justice.
The push to create a public defender’s office has been an uphill battle for years, especially as court backlogs and prison overcrowding that cost the county thousands of dollars a day continue to strain the justice system. existing criminal law.
“We’re pretty much at the end of this [jail] expansion project…and we will be able to house approximately 600 inmates in Hays County at the end of this very expensive project,” Commissioner Lon Shell said. “All this work and all this money is not going to get us to where we have all the inmates of Hays County, which I think is what we all think is best for criminal justice, for efficiency. [and] for the cost.
Shell added that it estimates the county will spend between $5 million and $10 million to outsource inmates this year, which it says underscores why the county should be doing all it can to get people through the criminal justice system.
County Judge Ruben Becerra noted that he doesn’t think the public defender’s office will solve all of the county’s problems, but it’s up to the commissioners to do everything they can to solve the problems as best they can.
About half of the work NDS will do once the public defender’s office is established will include addressing the mental health needs and issues of inmates, which Commissioner Walt Smith believes is a biased view of criminal justice.
“He was very focused on the individuals who may or may not have committed these crimes, and he was rightly not victim-focused,” Smith said. “It’s very upsetting for me.”
However, Shell said the creation of a public defender’s office so that the accused can see their day in court sooner and face justice will ultimately benefit all parties.
“Those pushing for this have been raked over the coals to bring something so universal and fundamental to our American way of life: freedom and justice for all. We pray about it, we pledge allegiance to him, and now we can walk away saying, “We did our part,” Becerra said.
The county and NDS will enter contract negotiations, which will be brought back for approval at a later date.