A group of key figures in the county’s criminal justice system will become part of a coordinating council to debate whether and how to make reforms to the system.
The Galveston County Commissioners Court on Friday voted to support the creation of a County and Judicial Criminal Justice Coordinating Advisory Council to look at possible changes to the criminal justice system.
Creating the group will be the first step in a series of recommendations proposed for the county by the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center, an organization hired to study and suggest and implement changes to the system. A preliminary study produced by the center in 2017 reported ongoing issues and factors in the county’s jail system.
Early last year, the commissioners court voted 3-2 to allocate $150,000 to hire the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center, a national organization working on different policy areas, to conduct a quantitative review of the county’s judicial system.
The report noted ongoing issues in the system, such as inconsistent policies for magistrate procedures and lack of a process to determine whether charges will be filed.
The council recommended forming a council of local judges and court staff and representatives from the district attorney’s office and sheriff’s department to work together on reform solutions.
“The first thing you need to do when you’re trying to develop a solution that involves many people in the system is you need to make sure they can talk to each other about what we’re planning to do,” said Tony Fabelo, deputy director of the Justice Center.
Working on issues such as addressing how the county deals with mental health issues in the criminal court system is going to take different departments working together, Fabelo said.
“It requires coordination with police and coordination with judges agreeing on which kind of people can be diverted,” Fabelo said.
Any changes — if implemented — will likely cost money and the county has so far set aside about $500,000 to make those reforms. Once formed, Fabelo will plan meetings for the group within the coming months to talk about the recommendations and how to proceed on them, he said.
“This is a first big step and it’s big in Galveston because of all the conflicts among the elected officials there,” Fabelo said. “But I think they have agreed we need to move forward and put that aside and try to do it.”