Lawmakers on Tuesday will consider several bills that would restructure the state’s bail system.
The current system holds suspects in jail until trial unless they can pay bail. Critics say it unjustly penalizes the poor because those who cannot pay – even if innocent – must stay in jail while wealthier suspects can post bail.
KVUE reported in March that Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston) and Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Junction) introduced SB 1338, SJR 50, HB 3011 and HJR 98 based on the findings of a two-year study conducted by the Texas Judicial Council and Public Policy Research Institute.
The bills require courts to perform pretrial risk assessments to determine if someone is a flight risk, is likely to show up for court and if they pose a threat to the public’s safety. If a person is not a risk, they could be released on their own recognizance in lieu of a cash bond.
The concept is widely supported in the criminal justice community, but the American Bail Coalition believes the issue only comes up in extreme cases.
“Bail is typically provided by a third party and it acts as security because I'm saying, ‘Well if I'm going to post your bond I'm going to be liable and if you don't show up I'm going to make sure that you get back.’ And so for the vast majority of the people in between, the system works. I think you could make adjustments at the top end and the bottom end without throwing out the system, which is what the legislation would propose to do,” said Jeffrey Clayton of the American Bail Coalition.
The study found Texas Counties spend $900 million per year housing people awaiting trial and that people in pre-trial detention are more likely to lose their jobs, leaving them unable to support their families.
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