“Texas’ most populous county jails misdemeanor arrestees who can’t afford bail, an unconstitutional “wealth-based” system that leaves poor people languishing behind bars, an inmate claims in a federal class action.” We already knew about a lot of the inequities in the court system in Houston from the Project Orange Jumpsuit report of 2014, but now we know more. And this lawsuit demonstrates that people are not going to take it any more. ODonnell says in her lawsuit “Harris County’s detention system is unconstitutionally rigged against poor people because magistrate judges set their bail with no consideration of whether they can afford it.”
Posts Tagged ‘ bail ’
Excellent news from California: for the first time, judges are questioning and stopping the unfair practice of courts demanding bail before drivers are allowed to challenge traffic tickets. The practice had been applied unevenly across California, and just like in Texas, it unfairly affects the poorest among us. In April, legal advocates published a report on the four million Californians who do not have a driver’s license because they either failed to appear or pay up. It’s more than 2 million in Texas! Think about how a change in this practice would mean fewer people in jail, who are also able to drive to their job, stay with their families, and live their lives.
“We spend a tremendous amount of money on our jails, and it’s not because we are keeping violent criminals in jail, it’s because for years we have been inefficient in the way we process these individuals,” says El Paso county commissioner Vince Perez. Nearly 3/4 of the 1600 inmates in the El Paso County jail are awaiting their first appearance in court, which can take up to 45 days! Imagine how much money that wastes while wrecking families and the livelihoods of those being held pretrial. Perez says that El Paso wants to change that. In this excellent story in the El Paso Times, it becomes obvious that the bail bondsmen are the only ones who find this new plan controversial.
“The best time to deal with a failure to appear case is before you are caught. There may be excellent defenses and negotiations possible to make this go away, and get you a new court date. However, if you are caught and arrested, your opportunities to argue for a reasonable outcome are much more limited.”
The new study about Harris County is revealing:
First-time felony offenders who were unable to post bond spent an average of 68 days in jail before having their cases resolved, the study showed. Those who remained jailed for drug possession – a common charge among Harris County jail inmates – were much less likely to win dismissals or deferred prosecutions than those able to afford to bail out, the study showed.
“Regardless of age, ethnicity or color of skin of over 90,000 people annually arrested, what generally determines the defendants’ fate is his or her economic status,” Wheeler argues in the report …
When you are charged with a misdemeanor, you may think you will have a chance to prove your innocence, but that’s before you discover the reality—that you are now part of the assembly line justice system. This important story explains how people, innocent or not, “are pressured by judges, prosecutors, and their own lawyers into pleading guilty, often without knowledge of their rights or the nature of the charges against them. Bail makes it worse. Around 80 percent of defendants who have bail set cannot afford to pay it. Innocent defendants commonly plead guilty just to get out of jail. In this way, millions of Americans are punished without due process and learn the cynical lesson that, at least when it comes to minor offenses, law and evidence aren’t all that important.”
A new report states that Harris County defendents don’t receive jail time based on age, race, or the nature of the charge–it’s based on how much money they have: “What generally determines the defendants’ fate is his or her economic status.”
“If the accused is unable to afford financial bail, he or she will quickly learn, in Harris County, the punishment is weeks or months of pretrial incarceration,” say researchers from the Orange Jumpsuit Report. The hard data behind this important report corroborates what is known in poor communities all over Texas. In most of Texas 247 county jails, people without resources languish in pretrial detention–losing their jobs, their families, and sometimes their physical and mental health. The Texas Observer’s Emily DePrang succinctly summarizes the various complexities.
“He lost his apartment and his car. Most of his possessions were in a dump somewhere. His debt was in the thousands. The brother he provided for was sent into transitional housing.
“Anthony Dorton was finally out of jail. But his path to freedom had come with a cost.”
This well-written story from California describes and explains what happens to so many people held in Texas county jails, in lengthy pretrial detention, awaiting hearings or trials or paperwork the county just can’t get around to. Just like this innocent man who was released after ten months, their personal lives are shattered and they often end up with no job, no car, no home–due to the failure of our local courts to serve all the people fairly.
The truth was stated in the tag line for this story and it sums up the bottom line in Texas: “Most inmates are in our jails because they’re poor.”
When are our counties going to step up and find solutions to correct these inequities for impoverished Texans?