SAN ANTONIO – The customary route for someone arrested is to go from jail then on to court to have their case resolved, but there is an option for inmates facing misdemeanors, even sometimes felony charges. It’s called “jail court,” an auxiliary court located inside the Bexar County jail.
About half of the inmates in jail court plead guilty, get credit for time served and are released. Jail court was set up in 1998 in a move to reduce the jail population.
Court-appointed attorneys represent the inmates who have chosen this route rather than waiting in jail for their day in court.
Transportation alone is a big plus of the jail court, according to proponents. Moving prisoners to the courtroom from the jail is expensive and carries a certain amount of security concern.
“The court moved from 10,000 to 13,000 cases a year through the court,” Judge Sarah Carrahan said. And that’s just misdemeanor cases.
“You get a better deal over here. The inmates like it because of that,” defense attorney Jim Oltersdorf said about jail court.
Diana Garcia was arrested on theft charges.
“You take what they give you, you know? Because you don't want to sit in there any longer. You just want to go home,” she said.
The mentality of pleading just to get out of jail is something that concerns critics of jail court, such as District Attorney Nico LaHood. He suggests that the inmates are bargaining with their freedom, and he’s concerned about rehabilitation.
"When you talk about the rehabilitative aspect of the judicial system, I don't believe that it funnels through jail court, because how do you rehabilitate somebody who says, 'I just want to get out. Here's my days in jail,'” LaHood said.
LaHood said he’s not opposed to jail court. He agrees with proponents who say that it’s economically efficient and a big player in the jail population problem.