Critics, including bail bondsmen and County Commissioner Mike Cantrell, argue the proposed changes to the county’s pretrial release system based on risk assessment will flood the streets with drug addicts and criminals who would otherwise be in jail.
Harris County’s criminal justice system is clogged with a growing number of failures to appear, months after a federal judge ordered the release of indigent defendants who can’t afford to post bail. Officials said the releases pose a threat to public safety.
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 New York governor’s proposal addresses several aspects of the criminal justice system critics have long decried as unfair to the poor, among them the state’s cash bail system and its restrictive discovery law, which allows prosecutors to withhold important evidence against a defendant until the eve of trial.
The Buckeye Institute released a report contending that the practice of requiring defendants to post money in order to secure their release from jail is an “inefficient, expensive, unfair means of protecting communities that has proven no guarantee to stopping repeat offenders.”
The four-year study, by the “Million Dollars Hoods” project at UCLA’s Bunche Center, reports the nearly $194 million actually paid in bond sureties disproportionately affected individuals in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Some 223,000 who couldn’t pay were held before trial.
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.