Skip to main content

Criminal Justice Reform Study Receives $500,000 To Expand Evaluation To Travis County

Texas A&M University research will determine whether having an attorney present advocating on behalf of defendants makes a difference in the bond amount and bond type given.

The Counsel at First Appearance (CAFA) study led by Georges Naufal, a research scientist with the Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A&M University, examines the value of legal representation in the magistration process in Hays, Potter and Travis counties.

The 12-month implementation stage launched in Travis County on April 8. The implementation stage in Hays and Potter counties is complete and data analysis is in process. PPRI will be joined by the Access to Justice Lab at Harvard Law School, the Capital Area for Private Defender Service, the Public Defender’s Office of Travis County, and the Texas Indigent Defense Commission for the implementation of this study and is supported by Arnold Ventures.

“We are going to determine whether having an attorney present advocating on behalf of defendants makes a difference in the bond amount and bond type given,” Naufal said. “The first step will be qualitative interviews, then quantitative [data analysis] and a cost-benefit analysis.”

Defendants are randomly assigned to a control or experimental group. Those placed in the experimental group will meet with an attorney before going to magistration to determine bail amount and type.

“On the days that we are offering representation, there will be at least one attorney present,” said Naufal. “Those attorneys will meet with the defendants, examine the probable cause of arrest, and advocate on behalf of the defendants in front of the magistrate judge.”

Currently, only four of the 254 counties in Texas offer attorneys at magistration, according to Naufal. Potential benefits of representation during magistration include more informed decisions from magistrate judges, more socioeconomic equality in criminal justice, less pretrial jail time, reducing costs for the criminal justice system and an increase in early mental health diagnoses.

“Spotting [mental health issues] at an early stage of a case is only beneficial, not just to the defendant, but to the county,” said Naufal. “[The county] is avoiding potentially long jail sentences and stays, which are very costly for taxpayers.”

More information on the Counsel at First Appearance study is available on the Public Policy Research Institute’s website.

About Public Policy Research Institute
As a leading policy research group at Texas A&M University, the Public Policy Research Institute (PPRI) engages in survey administration, statistical analysis, evaluation, and systems management. PPRI’s work has impacted policy in criminal justice, economics, education, public health and more.