Joe Gonzales in his office
Joe Gonzales Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

No one is above the law, and all should be seen as equal in the eyes of the law. We know this to be right, yet we also know that our criminal justice system often falls short of this ideal.

In the United States, we have been fighting crime in the same way and using the same basic methods for decades. The result is that the U.S. has a larger prison population and incarcerates people at a higher rate than any other country in the world. Those imprisoned are disproportionately poor and people of color. Our system tends to punish addiction and mental illness. It is time that we take a hard look in the mirror. We can do better.

My name is Joe D. Gonzales. As an attorney for the last 30 years, I have been a prosecutor, a defense attorney, and a magistrate judge. I have seen the system from all sides and have come to believe that it is time to shift our focus to a restorative justice model. When someone commits a minor crime, our goal needs to be to rehabilitate the defendant without branding him or her as a criminal. When a nonviolent crime is committed because of addiction or mental illness, we need to treat the underlying issue instead of throwing the defendant in prison.

Our goal should always be to make the community better and safer in the long term. Throwing someone in prison is rarely the best way to treat addiction or mental illness and is not likely to make the community safer when all is said and done.

It is also time to institute bail bond reform. Under our current system, a person charged with a crime in Bexar County will be able to get out of jail only if he or she can afford to post bond. In other words, a violent, dangerous criminal will be released if he or she has money in the bank, while a poor person charged with a minor crime could have to sit in jail for months waiting for a trial.

If elected as your next district attorney, my office would only seek to hold someone in jail before trial when we are seeking confinement as punishment for that defendant. It does not make sense to hold a person in jail who is presumed to be innocent when you do not want to punish them with jail if they are proven guilty.

Along the same lines, I have committed to instituting a working, countywide Cite and Release program if elected. This would allow police to issue a summons (as with a traffic ticket) to people charged with certain minor, nonviolent offenses such as possession of marijuana or shoplifting. Currently, individuals charged with these types of offenses are arrested and taken to jail. This unnecessarily takes police off the street for hours on end and forces taxpayers to cover the cost of jailing these people until they can afford to post bond. Cite and Release makes more sense.

If we move to a model where we rehabilitate those we can and only jail people when doing so is in the best interest of the community, then we can shift the resources that have been used to jail minor offenders to where they are badly needed. Domestic violence homicide rates are on the rise in Bexar County, while domestic violence prosecutors in the District Attorney’s Office are overwhelmed and under-supported.

If elected, I will create a Family Violence Unit in the DA’s Office that will specialize in the prosecution of domestic violence, sex crimes, and child abuse cases. I will greatly increase the number of prosecutors, staff, and resources that are dedicated to these cases to ensure the best results possible for the citizens of Bexar County. As a general rule, my office will shift resources away from jailing poor people for minor offenses and toward aggressive prosecution of those who commit serious crimes, regardless of who they are or how much money they have.

Your choice is simple in the upcoming election: embrace the status quo or vote Joe D. Gonzales for Bexar County District Attorney.

Joe D. Gonzales is the Democratic nominee for Bexar County District Attorney. He has more than 30 years of criminal law experience as an attorney, prosecutor, and magistrate judge. Joe is a San Antonio...