Four nonprofits have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging that the Dallas County jail’s cash bail system unfairly harms poor people and violates the Texas and U.S. constitutions, the Dallas Morning News reports. The lawsuit, which may end up carrying a hefty price tag, alleges that the system fails to consider a jailed defendant’s ability to pay to post bond, resulting in disparate treatment. Poorer citizens remain jailed for weeks or months because they can’t afford to pay their way out, while wealthier people can quickly purchase their freedom, the suit charges. It was filed on behalf of six Dallas County inmates, jailed on bond from $500 to $50,000.
“The situation in Dallas County is really a crisis,” said Trisha Trigilio of the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the groups filing the lawsuit. “The system is unfair and obviously unconstitutional, and we think it’s time for county officials to treat this problem with the urgency it deserves.” The cash bail system effectively coerces guilty pleas and results in longer jail and prison sentences for poor people, say lawyers for the ACLU, Civil Rights Corps and Texas Fair Defense Project, who filed the suit in northern district of Texas federal court. Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price said the county has long expected the lawsuit. He said the county is working toward using a risk assessment tool that “works for the benefit of all.” Last year, officials promised to reform the bail system after the Morning News published a story about Angela Jessie, a grandmother jailed for two months after she was caught shoplifting two school uniforms, a $105 crime. She could not afford to pay her $150,000 bail.