Some races on the November ballot could have a big impact on the criminal justice system, including the Travis County DA and Sheriff race.
AUSTIN, Texas – People across the country have taken to the streets for months to protest the police brutality and how some deaths have been handled by the criminal justice system.
However, some races on the ballot could make a difference in how cases are handled in the future, including the race for the Travis County District Attorney and the race for the Travis County Sheriff.
Who's on the ballot
A new district attorney will be elected by voters after incumbent Margaret Moore conceded Democrat Jose Garza, who beat Moore by more than 40,000 votes in the runoff race in July.
Garza will now face Republican Martin Harry.
For the sheriff of Travis County, incumbent Democrat Sheriff Sally Hernandez will stand against Republican Raul Vargas.
Delia Garza, the soon-to-be former Austin City Council mayor, is set to become Travis County's new attorney.
The Travis County District Attorney's election race
Before the July runoff election, Margaret Moore encountered a number of issues of concern, including criticism of the treatment of sexual assault cases. The Austin Firefighters Association pleaded for her to be ousted from office.
Carsten Andresen, assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at St. Edward & # 39; s University, didn't comment on Moore's performance but added that the idea of change may have led voters to vote for Jose Garza in July.
"She had a public awareness problem and has never been able to get over it, and that is an essential part of a political decision," said Andresen. "Not only were people fed up with the last prosecutor, but they were also very excited about Jose Garza, and he seems to have a new approach."
He added that it was important to understand the candidates' records.
Republican Martin Harry says on the front page of his website that, among other things, he wants to step up crime prevention efforts to reduce the victimization of vulnerable residents. The front page of Garza's website talks about viewing the prosecution as one that respects the dignity of color communities and offers justice to survivors.
"Travis County is still trying to figure out what its next phase will be, what its identity with the district attorney will be," said Andresen.
Other experts such as Michele Deitch, a lecturer at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, said this race could have an impact on the future.
"It affects the quality of justice as we incarcerate way too many people for way too long, for way too many low-level crimes, and keep many people incarcerated just because they can't raise enough money for bail," said Deitch. "But beyond that, it's a big public safety issue. We have to wonder if we're making people worse by sending them to the criminal justice system. It affects relapses. It affects community safety. How do we go ahead? " with people with mental health problems, people with substance use disorders? "
Jennifer Laurin, the Wright C Morrow Professor of Law at UT Austin, said there are several reasons to be interested in the district attorney's choice.
"We are citizens of Travis County, and our neighbors and fellow Travis County citizens may be affected by decisions to pursue or not to pursue cases," Laurin said. "We could fall victim to crime at some point and therefore have a stake in what decisions are made about how to deal with the investigation and prosecution of a case in which we are involved."
She added that these races could affect tax dollars.
"As taxpayers, we are involved in how city and county resources are spent and monitored, and the criminal justice system is a major source of local spending. So there are many reasons to care deeply about who the person is she earns." the decisions about which cases to pursue, "Laurin said.
The Travis County Sheriff's election race
Assistant Professor Carsten Andresen said the sheriff's role is an integral part of Travis County.
"As much as Austin is in Travis County, they're an integral part of Austin's safety and a wonderful place to live," said Andresen. "In particular, the sheriff is involved in the prisons to ensure security in court. They provide enforcement measures, also participate in research projects at the county level, and provide technical and research support for the county."
Andresen added that he believes Hernandez is highly valued by the community because of her tenure so far.
One issue that voters might consider this time around is how to deal with COVID-19 in prisons.
"COVID doesn't differentiate which side of the bar you're on," said lecturer Michele Deitch. “People in prisons – there is a very high level of“ churn. ”People go in and out of jails every day, what spreads inside to the communities and we need to make sure the virus does not spread quickly in prison, otherwise the outbreak in prison will also remain our community. "
Deitch added whoever wins the county sheriff's race could have an impact on how well the virus is contained in prisons.
"Prosecutors will decide whether people will stay locked up while they wait for trial," Deitch said, "and then the sheriff's practices and guidelines on how to keep the virus from spreading."
Professor Laurin also said the issue of COVID-19 in prisons could be influenced by the elections.
"This is a kind of 'moment-role' of tremendous importance, which only helps people who are not themselves imprisoned, or family members or friends of imprisoned people, to study the conditions under which they are imprisoned individuals living, "said Laurin.
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