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Travis Co. DA candidates weigh in on presidential debate and criminal justice

The presidential candidates had plenty to say about criminal justice during their first one-on-one debate Monday night, and the candidates for Travis County District Attorney weighed in on the dialogue on Tuesday. (CBS Austin)

The presidential candidates had plenty to say about criminal justice during their first one-on-one debate Monday night, and the candidates for Travis County District Attorney weighed in on the dialogue on Tuesday.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump focused on law and order. He praised the practice of "stop-and-frisk," which allows police officers to search people on the street and was found to be unconstitutional after the way it was implemented in New York City.

"You have to have stop and frisk, you need more police, you need better community relations," Trump said during the debate.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stressed the importance of race relations between police and communities as well. She also touted plans for criminal justice reform.

"Too many young African-American and Latino men ended up in jail for non-violent offenses," Clinton said.

Both candidates for Travis County District Attorney have their own plans to put fewer low-level criminals behind bars.

Republican candidate Maura Phelan says she wants to divert more mental health and addiction offenders to help programs instead of jail.

She says putting them in jail serves no purpose, "Except to cost the taxpayers money and make the jail more dangerous."

Phelan also says the DA's office needs to have guidelines for plea recommendations and more training.

"What one person gets for the same offense, may be completely different than what the next guy gets which leaves it open to interpretation, and it isn't justice," Phelan said.

Another piece of Phelan's plan is to bring in intake attorneys to work cases around the clock.

She says, "It won't be six months to a year before the first time that an attorney looks at their case and determines whether or not it's legally sufficient. That can get our jail numbers down."

Her Democratic opponent, Margaret Moore, says she wants to see fewer low-level offenders doing jail time.

"I don't think this community is interested in seeing people with small amounts of drugs put in the penitentiary or kept in jail," Moore said.

Moore says she also wants to see more offenders directed toward mental health resources and that she would like to expand the existing drug court, which is designed to connect offenders with addiction recovery resources.

"The standout point that I've been hearing throughout the course of my campaign has to do with the community's confidence that the criminal justice system treats all members fairly," says Moore.

She says she would order an audit to determine whether there was bias in past cases and that she would also create a civil rights unit to handle officer involved cases.

"I intend to take a number of measures to address that lack of confidence," said Moore.

Phelan says that if it is within the parameters of probable cause, "Stop and Frisk" can work.

"We have that in Texas, but it cannot be based purely on profiling. It should be equally applied. It's based solely on suspicion of criminal activity," Phelan said.

Both Moore and Phelan agree on the need to build better relationships between law enforcement and the people of Travis County.

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