HAYS COUNTY, Texas — "It was unnecessary, it was destructive to my personal life," Lefty Parker said.
That's how the 24-year-old would describe what happened to him in 2020 when he and his girlfriend walked into a closed construction site in Downtown San Marcos.
"We were charged with criminal trespassing, and both put in jail for the following 18 hours," he said.
Parker said he didn't know he wasn't allowed on the site. One decision derailed his career as a substitute teacher.
"I was alerted by the school district that I couldn't work for them anymore because I had a criminal record," he said.
That's not all.
"Later on, trying to move into new apartments, I couldn't get accepted to certain apartments for the fact that I had a criminal trespassing record," Parker added.
For him, part of the cost of incarceration was emotional trauma but, for the County, the cost is measured in taxpayer dollars.
A Hays County Sheriff's Office report shows that in the first week of July, the County spent over $120,000 to lock people up in other county jails. That's because there are too many people in the Hays County Jail, forcing them to outsource.
"We've spent more than $15,000 a day outsourcing inmates, that doesn't include the cost of the jail operation itself,” said Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra.
Outsourcing inmates is one reason the cost of incarceration is so high, but another reason is that inmates are there for a long time.
According to the Hays County dashboard, the median length of stay in the Hays County Jail is 104 days pretrial. To better understand this, we compared information from Williamson County. For felony charges, the median stay for inmates is 75 days, and it's six days for misdemeanor charges.
Unlike Hays County, Williamson County doesn't outsource any inmates.
Additionally, the cost to incarcerate in Williamson County last week was about $89,000, whereas Hays County spent over $120,000 just on outsourcing inmates.
About two years ago, the HCSO announced a cite-and-divert program – which would order some low-level misdemeanor suspects to meet with a prosecutor and not be arrested, and give them an opportunity to have their charges dropped.
Last year's Hays County budget shows that almost $16,000 was given to the cite-and-divert program, but nothing was done with the funding.
Becerra said the reason people are in jail for so long is that judges and the district attorney's office aren't moving fast enough.
"The hallmark of the justice system in the United States is innocent until proven guilty. So why are people being locked in a cage for months at a time without the ability to go to court and prove their innocence,” said community advocate Jordan Buckley.
Buckley brought a birthday cake to the district attorney's office last year to draw attention to the fact that it had been one year since the County was supposed to implement the cite-and-divert program, which could help clear out the jails.
Hays County District Attorney Wes Mau said the program never took place because members of the public objected to the plan when there was no pretrial services department in place, and no public defense procedures for the program to work.
As for Parker, he wishes he would have had the opportunity to not have charges against him, which a cite-and-divert program could have done for him.
"It was a terribly stressful and traumatic experience," Parker said.
The Hays County judge told us that he just signed a contract to send inmates as far as Oklahoma. Currently, there are inmates all over Texas, sitting in other county jails.
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