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Photo by Michael Minasi/KUT
Wednesday, November 18, 2020 by Andrew Weber
Newly sworn in, Travis County Judge Andy Brown says he’ll shift focus from jails to mental health
Andy Brown is now Travis County’s top official.
Brown was sworn in at Tuesday’s meeting of the Travis County Commissioners Court by interim County Judge Sam Biscoe, who served in the same capacity for over 15 years before retiring. He was brought out of retirement earlier this year when then-County Judge Sarah Eckhardt made a successful bid for the Texas Senate.
Brown will serve the remaining two years of Eckhardt’s term.
In his remarks after the swearing-in, Brown said he hoped to meet calls from the community for criminal justice reform by focusing more on mental health and diversion programs and less on incarceration. Brown said he will push for the county to abandon a plan to build a facility for female inmates – one that’s been years in the making and has the support of Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez.
Hernandez has argued current jail facilities are outdated and weren’t built with women in mind. Along with a new downtown booking facility, the proposed facility was a cornerstone in the county’s 2016 master plan to overhaul its jail system.
Brown formerly served as head of the Travis County Democratic Party and as an adviser to former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke. He helped spearhead the opening of Austin-Travis County’s Sobering Center, serving on its board of directors.
He told KUT he hopes to employ similar diversionary programs during his tenure as the county’s top elected official, aiming to rely less on jails and more on investments in mental health and behavioral health programs.
He hopes to work closely with District Attorney-elect José Garza and County Attorney-elect Delia Garza to forge ahead on a road to reform.
‘The average daily population of the jail has been going down over the past few years, through, I think, good work of judges, commissioners, prosecutors (and) the public defender’s office working to make sure we’re not putting people in jail unless they absolutely have to be there,” he said. “I would like to invest more in that effort.”
Commissioners and county staff joked that Tuesday’s event also marked the “re-retirement” of Biscoe, who first retired as county judge in 2014.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Jeff Travillion lauded Biscoe’s ability to keep meetings humming along and engender cooperation among his colleagues.
“The way that you manage things, the way that you keep things from boiling over, the way that you build consensus and make sure that everybody is a part of it is just special,” he said, likening Biscoe to NBA legend Magic Johnson, who was known for his ability to inspire other players on the court. “You get the best out of us. You have developed a standard that is trusted by the community, and that really is what public service is all about.”
After testimony from other commissioners and county staff, and a video tribute that included footage of his first Commissioners Court meeting and swearing-in as Travis County judge, Biscoe said he was grateful.
“If I were the kind to tear up,” Biscoe joked, “I would tear up.”
Editor’s Note: Andy Brown is on the board of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, which is the parent nonprofit of the Austin Monitor.
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