Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales today announced plans to focus away from jailing low level offenders and turn the resources of his office toward prosecuting violent criminals, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
"Jail is for people who we are afraid of," Gonzales said.
He says his office plans to expand the crimes which will be covered under the 'cite and release' program to non violent offenses in addition to simple marijuana possession, including misdemeanor theft, driving with an invalid license, and criminal mischief.
Gonzales stresses that this isn't 'decriminalization.' He says offenders will still have to potentially pay a fine, do community service, and maintain a clean record.
But some offenses will not be prosecuted.
"In order to focus resources on the prosecution of violent crime, the D.A.’s Office is instituting a new declination policy in the prosecution of certain low quantity drug cases. This office will not prosecute people for possession of a penalty group 1 controlled substance case when the amount is less than 0.25 grams. This office will not prosecute people for simple possession of less than one ounce of marijuana," he said.
He says prosecutors who had been focusing on these offenses will be able to focus on prosecuting gang crimes and domestic violence.
There has been a concern about 'over policing' of certain crimes, which frequently falls the hardest on low income and minority communities.
He says there will be changes on cash bond, which has led to two individuals dying in the Bexar County Jail, because they couldn't afford to pay a bond of less than $100.
"It is not right or fair that a person should have to languish in jail before a minor criminal case is resolved simply because they do not have the money to pay for a bond. The D.A.’s new bail policy is designed to address this problem."
Misdemeanor and state jail felony offenders will not be required to post a cash bond, unless a judge determines that the defendant is a flight risk, or the defendant would be a danger to the public if released.
He says none of these changes will diminish the ability of the police, sheriff, and other law enforcement agencies to make arrests when they find an arrest to be appropriate.
“It is my hope that these new policies will ensure a more efficient and just manner to prosecute crime while keeping our community safe.”