SAN ANTONIO - A new pilot program announced Wednesday morning could relieve taxpayer dollars and use local law enforcement resources more effectively.
Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood announced a ‘cite and release’ pilot program meaning people caught with a small amount of marijuana or other misdemeanor offenses will no longer go to jail.
"When utilized, this program will allow officers to stay on our streets and continue to protect our community," said Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood.
The goal of the program is to keep people who are a threat to the San Antonio community inside the jail and give low-level, non-violent criminals another option.
"We want to put in the jail people that are a threat to our community. That's what jails are for. For non-violent, low-level offenses we can treat in a different way is a way to bring about good justice," said Bexar County Judge, Nelson Wolff.
The plan gives law enforcement the discretion to issue a person a citation or arrests them, depending on the situation. This applies to low-level crimes like possession of no more than 4 ounces of marijuana, theft, theft of service or driving with an expired license.
If an officer decides not to arrest the person, they will instead hand them a citation. From there, the individual will go to the courthouse and be eligible for a program and a class specifically designed to deter the crime they committed. If they're successful within 90 days, the case will not go through the court system.
"The Bexar County Jail is for people that as a society we're afraid of. Not for people were just mad at,” Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said. “To be quite honest, that's what the system has been allowed to become. I'm talking about the 18, 19-year-old college kids that made a mistake that quite honestly thousands and thousands of kids every day make that same mistake. If we don't find a better way of doing things, we're going to misuse resources."
If the person does not show up in court after they're cited, the county will file the case at large. The program will also help more officers stay on the streets instead of dealing with low-level criminals by taking them to jail and filing their paperwork.
The Bexar County Jail is currently at capacity.
Officials studied similar programs in Harris and Travis counties, so there are still a few court details to iron out in Bexar County's version.
County leaders have not said how long the ‘cite and release’ pilot program will last. LaHood said it will go as long as needed so they can work on making any adjustments.