Jail overcrowding is a growing problem in Nacogdoches County. Everyone from county commissioners to judges are putting their minds together on how to ease the problem.
District Judge Campbell Cox suggested to commissioners to implement pre-indictment pleas. The judge isn't sure when the idea came to mind, but he's asking the court to give it a try. The move would eliminate the wait for a Grand Jury indictment, which typically takes 30 days.
Not every case would be considered. Cox said, "They would be cases such as credit card abuse, possibly unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, some forgeries, possibly some drug cases -- things like that, not the more serious cases."
Alleged offenders would spend days rather than weeks in jail, long enough for a contract facilitator to review offense reports and criminal histories for a quick presentation to attorneys. Cox explained, "That's what they use already to make a recommendation. It's simply getting the information to them quicker so they can make an offer. If an offer can be made, then you take that information, let that facilitator take the offer to the defense attorney, see if you can work a plea out."
Offenders may get out of jail faster, but legal prep work would be handled by a commissioned peace officer rather than an attorney. Stephanie Stephens said, "Quite frankly, my job is putting people in jail, not getting people out of jail."
However, she knows when the jail is overcrowded, prosecutors and district judges have to put their minds together to figure out how to speed up the system. Stephens suggests hiring an additional prosecutor. "I wish we had the personnel available to run both district courts' criminal dockets at the same time."
Commissioners will consider Cox's idea. They're also taking more seriously Stephens' ongoing request for more help. All parties agree there's, at least, a healthy dialogue exchange for finding a solution to a problem that isn't going away.