Now it turns out that many jail residents are low-risk defendants who don't need to be there, but who remain incarcerated because they can't make bail.
Via Solutions for Texas, we discover this recent report (Word doc) by the Justice Management Institute analyzing Harris County's "Pre-trial services" division. According to that analysis, the "unnecessary detention of low-risk defendants" contributes signficiantly the jail overincarceration problem. I might look at parts of this more carefully later on today -- it has a lot of useful history and background if you care about the Harris County Jail situation -- but Ann pulled the money quote pinning overcrowding blame on county bail policies:
the existence of this large block of apparently low risk defendants in detention should be a cause for concern. To the extent that defendants who pose no significant risk of nonappearance or of danger to public safety remain in pretrial detention because of inability to post bond, the County incurs significant and unnecessary costs for the operation of the jail. Such detention also appears to be contrary to Texas law requiring individualized consideration of the circumstances of each defendant in setting bail."Hmmmm ... so Harris County's bail policies are "contrary to Texas law" and generate "unnecessary costs." A two-fer.
UPDATE: See more Grits Harris County Jail coverage.