The long-awaited “cite and release” policy will soon start in Nueces County. This week, commissioners approved the purchase of a fingerprint scanning device that’s necessary for the program. The new policy will allow some people accused of certain low-level certain misdemeanors to avoid going to jail.
The protocol will give officers the option of how to handle people accused of seven Class A and B misdemeanors. They include theft, possession of marijuana, possession of synthetic marijuana, graffiti, criminal mischief, criminal trespass, and possession of contraband in a correctional facility.
“[Officers] will have the discretion essentially to either arrest them or to give them a citation as they would a traffic ticket,” said Matt Manning, assistant district attorney for Nueces County. “We are sure that there are some people who are going to think that this is a free for all, but I am happily telling people that this is smart for all.”
Manning says that’s because those citations will not mean that those suspects are done answering for the charges. As he explained, “These are cases that still carry potential jail time. They carry more substantial fines and they are cases that will absolutely still be prosecuted as though they had been arrested.”
For that reason, Nueces County Sheriff J.C. Hooper prefers to refer to the policy with a different label.
“It is no way a release. It is cite in lieu of arrest. The criminal charge is just as significant given that citation as given a full custodial arrest,” Hooper told KRIS 6 News.
He, and leaders of other county law enforcement agencies, support the program. The sheriff says his office will benefit directly, especially by providing relief for the ongoing jail overcrowding problem. Hooper says many of the people are who are now in the county jail would fall under the guidelines of the cite and release policy.
“That would be one less person that we’d have to house, one less person we’d have to feed and that’s all taxpayer money,” he said. “It’s an expensive process booking somebody into this county jail.”
In fact, the estimated cost to house an inmate is $81 a day. County officials say, on average, around 300 cases per month would qualify for the policy, potentially saving the county around $24,000 a month.
“This gives Nueces County the same opportunity to afford those cost-saving measures and make sure that we’re still holding people accountable,” Manning said.
The District Attorney’s Office hopes to have the cite and release program up and running by February.