In a major policy shift prompted by the jailhouse deaths of homeless and mentally ill individuals who were held on simply criminal trespass charges, Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzalez says his office will no longer prosecute those counts involving homeless or mentally ill defendants, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
The decision follows the death of a homeless man who died in the Bexar County Jail last week while held on a criminal trespass charge, who could not come up with the $50 needed to secure his $500 bail.
“We are continuing to develop our policy regarding this issue and are working with law enforcement and mental health professionals to better serve the community and find workable solutions to this problem,” Gonzalez said.
The District Attorney's office says criminal trespass charges will be 'rejected for prosecution' if they meet the following criteria:
1. The offense occurs at a non-residential place;
2. Criminal Trespass is the only charge;
3. The Defendant appears to be homeless; and
4. The Defendant does not have any violent history and is not currently on probation/deferred for any offense.
Gonzalez stresses this policy does not infringe on the right of police officers and deputies to make arrests for criminal trespass. If the person arrested has a mental health issue, the individual will be referred for the appropriate treatment.
Homeless individuals can be taken to a shelter, or simply removed from the private property.
This decision is in line with an effort being made by Bexar County officials to downplay the use of cash bond as surety to release individuals from jail on non violent charges. A large percentage of the population of Texas urban county jails are people whose liberty is being denied who have never been convicted of any crime, but they are there simply because they cannot afford to pay the bail that has been set by a magistrate.