A year after a federal judge approved a plan to reform the Harris County bail system, allowing most misdemeanor defendants to be released on their own recognizance, an independent report concludes there has been no corresponding increase in repeat offenses.
The former system required defendants, even those charged with low-level, non-violent offenses, to secure their release by posting cash bail or a bond. A lawsuit in federal court charged that the system unconstitutionally kept poorer defendants incarcerated pending trial while others with financial means went free. Many of these defendants also lacked effective criminal defense counsel.
Under the settlement, approved in September 2019 by U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal, most defendants facing misdemeanor charges are released without paying a bail bond with the promise to return to court for their trail. The reform agreement also includes the following elements:
- Free legal counsel for defendants at bail hearings
- Special hearing for defendants who have violated bonds, repeatedly driven intoxicated, or have been charged with certain domestic violence crimes to determine their eligibility for no-cash bail
- An “open hours” court where defendants with misdemeanor charges can reschedule hearings if they miss their court date
To prevent defendants from skipping their court date under the new system, practices are being established to encourage court appearances. These include text-message reminders and a website that lets defendants reschedule their court dates.
Opponents of the bail reforms argued that they might allow offenders opportunities to commit new crimes during the period of freedom before their trial. After the reforms were adopted, court-appointed independent monitors at the Public Policy Research Institute, Duke University and the University of Houston tracked the results.
According to the monitors’ report, releasing misdemeanor defendants from jail without bail did not result in a rise in reoffending. The report found the rate of re-arrests of misdemeanor defendants in Harris County has not changed since the reforms were introduced.
In addition, the report shows that the new bail reforms may have narrowed the gap between white and black defendants being released before their hearing. Prior to the settlement, black people were less likely to be able to pay bail than white people.
The report did not include data on what percentage of no-cash bond defendants show up for their court date. A follow-up report that records data on appearances and missed hearings is expected in the near future.
At the Law Offices of Kevin Collins, our lawyers are zealous advocates of Texas bail reform. If you’ve been charged with a crime and are determined to make bail call 210-598-8629 or contact us online to speak with a legal representative with expertise in the San Antonio bail system.