By Bill Oakey – September 10, 2015
In case you haven’t noticed, candidates have started lining up supporters for next year’s Travis County elections. The first step will be to choose your party’s nominees in the spring primaries. In recent weeks I have come to know Chantal Eldridge, who just happens to be the best person running in the Democratic primary for the new 450th District Court Judge position. Not only have I decided to endorse her, but I am quite excited about what she has to offer.
Chantal is a reform candidate, and that’s exactly what we need. I like to describe her platform as “Smart Justice Reform.” But first, a few words about her background. Chantal brings over 25 years of experience to her candidacy. She has spent the last ten of those years in her own law practice, representing criminal defendants here in Central Texas. Prior to that, she has enjoyed a long career in criminal, civil rights and family law cases involving children. For an extensive look at Chantal’s resume, please check out this link on her campaign website.
A Conversation With Chantal About Her Reform Goals
I sat down with Chantal to talk about her ideas for improving the criminal justice procedures. Here is a summary by topic:
Pre-Trial Release Services – “Right now someone without a permanent address is not eligible for a personal bond. This means that homeless people have to sit in jail to await trial. If they are employed, they often lose their jobs. One of the best ways to keep people out of the criminal justice system is to keep them employed. If they don’t have a permanent address, there is an assumption that they won’t show up. That is not necessarily true. I support allowing homeless people to be eligible for release on bond. As it stands, it costs $50 to $60 per day to keep them in jail, and the jail is being used as a homeless shelter.”
Mental Health Issues – “Travis County has a misdemeanor mental health docket and a mental health public defender’s office for misdemeanors. We do not have a district judge assigned to felony mental health cases. I think there needs to be a felony mental health court. We have one felony mental health prosecutor. But not all of the cases go to her court. Habitual offenders are not reviewed in terms of whether their criminal history is directly related to their mental health issues. I think those cases should be admitted onto a mental health docket.”
Medication Compliance Programs – “The biggest problem with mental health defendants is keeping them on their medications after they are released. Most people are fairly stable when they stay on their medication. But that can be difficult. Homeless people have more pressing concerns with food and shelter. And sometimes people will start feeling better and think they don’t need to stay on their meds. One Austin non-profit is experimenting with a medication compliance program on-site that could serve as a good model if it is proven successful. If it works there, then hopefully we can expand it into other organizations and agencies that work with mental health clients.”
Rehabilitation and Job Training – “When people are placed on probation or deferred adjudication, the focus needs to be on rehabilitation. These people should be evaluated to determine what their basic needs are. Most of these people are poor. They are much less likely to re-offend if we can help them become productive members of society. One area of assistance might be temporary housing. Or, we could help them get enrolled in ACC. There are also apprenticeship programs that accept people with criminal convictions. These basic needs should be given priority over risk-based programs like anger management or substance abuse classes. Right now we do not have enough attention in the court system towards addressing those needs.”
Let’s Get Behind Chantal Eldridge and Ask Our Friends to Support Her!
Please email, Facebook and Tweet this blog link to your contact lists. Chantal is a progressive voice that may not get the rubber-stamped endorsement of the Old Guard political crowd. This is a down-ballot race that would be easy to overlook. So, let’s spread the word about Chantal. We need her reform efforts working to improve the justice system in Central Texas.
You can go to her campaign website with this link. Sign up to volunteer, request a yard sign, and make a donation. Sign up for her mailing list to find out about special events. Let’s get Chantal elected in the primary!