It's Time for A Decision On Harris County Bail Reform
Last week, we joined our partners Civil Rights Corps, and Susman & Godfrey, LLP to file a motion arguing that the facts are in and it is time for a decision in the four-year-old case seeking reform of Harris County’s felony system. The groups represent people who are being detained in the Harris County Jail only because they can’t afford to pay cash bail. The motion relies on expert reports showing that for decades, the biggest determinant of whether a person will spend weeks, months, or even years awaiting their day in court is how much money the person can pay.
“This is a broken system of injustice that today’s filing gets us one step closer to ending,” says Dustin Rynders, Director of Criminal Injustice Reform for Texas Civil Rights Project and a Houston-based lawyer helping represent plaintiffs in the case.
“Pretrial incarceration costs people their jobs, homes, families, and even their lives. Through our motion, we are seeking to halt the widespread practice of jailing presumptively innocent people simply because they’re too poor to pay a bond, without ever finding that doing so is even necessary,” said Jeffrey Stein, Deputy Director of Litigation for Civil Rights Corps.
The court filing also comes a month after a contentious election in Harris County where candidates spent millions on a fictitious campaign against bail reform that voters ultimately rejected.
Harris County Courthouse in downtown Houston, Texas.
“We trust the court to make decisions based on facts and not political posturing and lies about our most vulnerable community members,” says Rynders. “A victory for our clients helps all of us who live in Harris County, because reform saves money, allows investment in what works, and improves community safety.”
Misdemeanor bail reform resulting from a previous case saved the county $15 million per year. Some of those savings were spent on practical solutions that give people better reminders of their court dates. The most comprehensive study of Harris County’s reformed misdemeanor bail system by Paul Heaton of the University of Pennsylvania found people largely showed up for court appearances and didn’t commit more crimes.
Reforms sought by plaintiffs now could save even more. Hundreds of people sit in the jail charged only with non-violent state jail felonies that are often enhanced misdemeanors. Hundreds more are jailed because they can’t afford $1,000 or $2,000. Most of these people end up being released as soon as they plead guilty.
You can view the filing here.
Learn more in our recent Instagram Live discussion on the impact of the money bail system with our partners at Civil Rights Corps: