When a federal judge ruled that Houston’s Harris County wrongfully held poor misdemeanor defendants in jail while awaiting trial, she placed the responsibility for issuing bail orders in the unpracticed hands of the county sheriff’s office. The county courts, which usually make bail decisions, have focused their efforts on their own reforms. That combination has led to confusion within the state’s largest pretrial system.
Public defenders plan case-by-case appeals of judges’ routine decisions to jail defendant who can’t afford to pay for release pending trial. They contend that thousands of suspects are jailed unnecessarily for weeks, months, and sometimes years.
The sponsors of the New York-based initiative are asking volunteers to use their spare computer power to “mine” the digital currency known as Monero, which will then be used to bail the poor out of jail.
A Bronx-based organization has raised $30 million to take its bail advocacy nationwide. The Bail Project is scheduled to open offices in St. Louis and Tulsa, Okla., in January and spread to more than three dozen cities in the next five years.
The rate of pretrial releases has risen since the city’s courts have been using a risk-assessment tool, but some of reformer DA George Gascón’s assistants still are insisting on defendants’ being held on cash bail.
Some worry that a risk-assessment tool under development could predict recidivism by weighing factors that serve as a proxy for race and socioeconomic status, ultimately incarcerating more black and brown defendants while allowing white defendants to go free.
A New York City experiment that used partially secured and unsecured bonds suggests that these are viable alternatives to a system that puts thousands of individuals behind bars awaiting trial because they can’t afford to make bail, according to a September 15 report by the Vera Institute of Justice.
With the system facing unprecedented scrutiny, four states and the District of Columbia are among jurisdictions showing that real reforms to the bail system are possible, says the Washington Post in an editorial.