Washington County government has spent the last few years deciding how to deal with the ongoing problem of overcrowding in the Washington County Detention Center. Community advocates stepped in and convinced the Quorum Court to commission an independent non-partisan study from the National Center for State Courts. In part, the study points the way toward justice reform. The roadmap exists. Now is the time to use it.
Jail should be reserved for people who present a danger to the public, and I support the job our deputies do in keeping the public safe. I also support the findings of the Criminal Justice Assessment, which pointed to a long list of alternatives to jail for low-risk nonviolent individuals. That includes treatment for addiction and mental illness, homeless services, working with organizations like the Bail Project, and reducing the high number of people in jail for failure to appear in court. I’ve spoken about the report with Sheriff Tim Helder, former Jail Ombudsman Stan Adelman, and community advocates. There is broad agreement, but it will take political will from our Quorum Court to fund the criminal justice reforms it recommended.
JP12 includes most of the homeless population in Washington County. Providing these resources through a joint effort of the county, cities, and service agencies has the potential to not only cut our jail population but also reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness. We need to end the revolving door of incarceration and homelessness.
The jail population has been reduced by nearly half since COVID-19. The pandemic and the recent protests have called on us to look at everything with fresh eyes to see what systems are working and what are not. This is an opportunity to make lasting changes.