Many people in Texas arrested for and charged with criminal offenses end up being put in jail or prison immediately. These defendants must pay a cash amount in the form of bail to secure their release from custody while their case proceeds through the criminal justice system. Many people, however, assert that the common reliance on bail unfairly punishes low-income people and essentially rewards higher-income defendants, resulting in a discriminatory system.
Texas Monthly reported that in 2019, the state House of Representatives passed an initiative designed to allow judges to assess the risk and safety of each case with the goal of allowing more people to be released from custody without needing to post bail. The matter failed to pass the Senate.
Harris County seems to have taken matters into its own hands and may hopefully provide a shining example for other counties throughout the state. In the last several years, the county has all but eliminated the requirement to post cash bail for most misdemeanor offenses. Before changes were implemented, the county kept at least 40% of all defendants in custody until they could pay bail. Now, more than eight out of 10 are released immediately even if their initial hearing has not yet occurred. Many more people are allowed to leave jail once their initial hearing has taken place.
The dramatic results experienced by the changes in Harris County have officials there reviewing how or if similar efforts may be expanded to felony cases. The work comes on the heels of a legal suit brought forth by the group, Civil Rights Corporation.