HAYS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Hays County commissioners unanimously approved the public defender’s office contract with Neighborhood Defender Service, Inc. at their meeting Tuesday.

The county has been trying to get a public defender’s office for three years. Currently, court-appointed attorneys are assigned cases.

According to the Hays County Jail dashboard, as of Nov. 20, more than 80% of the jail population is being held pretrial.

Local advocacy group Mano Amiga said this office would go a long way in helping people incarcerated get adequate representation.

Cyrus Gray spent nearly five years behind bars in the Hays County Jail with no conviction.

“Not knowing when you would ever be able to go home,” Gray said.

Just this past week Gray posted bond. He now awaits retrial after his previous one ended in a hung jury.

Gray said he was held for so long simply because he couldn’t afford a private attorney and was assigned a court-appointed attorney instead.

“Caseload is just so extreme, and they lack the resources to really do an effective job of defending,” Gray said.

But change is on the horizon. Tuesday, the county approved a contract for its very first public defender’s office. It is now adding itself to the 36 of 254 Texas counties that have one.

Amy Kamp, the lead jail advocacy organizer with Mano Amiga, said it will bring a new set of resources.

“It’s an actual office, much like we have a [District Attorney] office. You know, there’s a dedicated staff, their support staff,” Kamp said.

She said there is still work to be done, but this is a great start.

“I think just getting it off the ground and being willing to say, ‘It’s time, let’s go,’ is really important. That gives us a place to see how it goes to evolve to build,” Kamp said.

For Gray, it’s been a long journey getting back home.

As he prepares to spend his first Thanksgiving with his family, he can’t help but reflect on those still waiting for their hearing. Gray hopes they’ll have their day in court with a public defender by their side.

“It makes me a little more hopeful that change can come and that, you know, these people that are sitting in jail, pre-trial can get the adequate help they need. Because, again, these are pre-trial detainees, which are presumed innocent until proven guilty,” Gray said.

According to the state’s task force on indigent defense, having a public defender’s office in place can lead to:

  • Lower caseloads
  • More contact with clients
  • Faster case assignment
  • Lower jail costs