Sunday, August 23, 2009

Needless pretrial detention main cause of Harris jail overcrowding

In the Houston Chronicle today, Lise Olsen has a story ("Thousands languish in crowded jail") focused on the overuse of pretrial detention for petty defendants. Here's how the story opens:

More than half of the 11,500 inmates crammed into the Harris County Jail have not yet been found guilty of a crime but await their day in court confined with convicted criminals in conditions that repeatedly flunk state and federal safety inspections.

The most common accusation against them: possession of a crack pipe or minuscule amount of drugs.

Though the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to a speedy trial, at least 500 county inmates have been locked up for more than a year as they wait to be judged, according to an analysis of inmate data by the Houston Chronicle.

About 1,200 have been jailed six months or more though many face only minor felony charges, such as bouncing checks, credit card fraud, trespassing or even civil violations. In fact, around 200 inmates, theoretically innocent until proven guilty, appear to already have served more than the minimum sentence for the crime they allegedly committed, based on the newspaper's analysis of inmate data provided by the Harris County Sheriff's Office.

The article focuses in on an issue frequently highlighted here on Grits - Harris County judges' failure to make greater use of personal bonds:

Only a handful of accused felons — just 376 out of more than 38,000 cases last year — get released before trial based on their own pledge to appear when required, according to reports from the county's own Pretrial Services program. That's a tiny fraction of the 14,966 people who scored as low risk in pretrial interviews last year, one of the major factors judges consider in making bonding decisions. As a result, many people who can't afford to post bail simply stay in jail, including some accused only of misdemeanors. ...

In all, thousands of inmates accused of nonviolent crimes but not yet convicted remain packed into cells so crowded that many sleep on mattresses on the floor. Others are shipped to overflow cells that Harris County rents 387 miles away in Epps, La., at a cost of $9 million last year.

“That's one of the ... biggest travesties,” said Mark Hochglaube, a Houston attorney who has studied the problem as part of a county committee on indigent defense. Even a person who claims innocence, Hochglaube argues, when faced with the possibility of being locked up for months before getting to trial, will likely plead guilty because first offenders often can get out sooner if they don't fight.

Pretrial detention is exactly where the debate over Harris County jail overcrowding should be centered. I'm quite glad to see media coverage focused on the root causes of jail overcrowding instead of just stopgap measures to accommodate it.

See related Grits posts:

27 comments:

Lifebeingblogged said...

I don't understand how this hasn't spawned numerous legal challenges and civil rights suits. If you are being held, though presumed innocent until found guilty, in the exact circumstances as someone who HAS been found guilty, then you are being punished....while being innocent-confinement being common punishment for the guilty. If you are being held without be tried and found guilty in what the Feds repeatedly judge as unsafe, below-standard conditions, you have a case. If a judge HAS the mechanism to release you but instead holds you in unsafe conditions past the date certified as "a speedy trial" and indeed past the date you would have served if found guilty, then why isn't that actionable?
I know their are lawyers in Houston. I've heard they are common there.

Thomas Hobbes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thomas Hobbes said...

Just an FYI from the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure . . .

Art. 17.151.
RELEASE BECAUSE OF DELAY.

Sec. 1. A defendant who is detained in jail pending trial of an accusation against him must be released either on personal bond or by reducing the amount of bail required, if the state is not ready for trial of the criminal action for which he is being detained within:

(1) 90 days from the commencement of his detention if he is accused of a felony;

(2) 30 days from the commencement of his detention if he is accused of a misdemeanor punishable by a sentence of imprisonment in jail for more than 180 days;

(3) 15 days from the commencement of his detention if he is accused of a misdemeanor punishable by a sentence of imprisonment for 180 days or less; or

(4) five days from the commencement of his detention if he is accused of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine only.

Sec. 2. The provisions of this article do not apply to a defendant who is:

(1) serving a sentence of imprisonment for another offense while the defendant is serving that sentence;

(2) being detained pending trial of another accusation against the defendant as to which the applicable period has not yet elapsed;

(3) incompetent to stand trial, during the period of the defendant's incompetence; or

(4) being detained for a violation of the conditions of a previous release related to the safety of a victim of the alleged offense or to the safety of the community under this article.

Anonymous said...

Judges in Harris County don't use pretrial bonds for several reasons, chief of which is that a high bond is an excellent way to coerce a plea. Not only do they not set reasonable bonds, but they will also forfeit bonds for the most minor reasons. I had a client that was 30 minutes late to court after Ike because she was caught in a traffic jam that was so bad it made the national news. Her $30,000.00 bond (on a 3rd degree felony forgery charge) was forfeited and the bond was doubled to $60,000.00 in spite of the fact that I was complaining so long and so loudly that I was threatened with contempt, and in spite of the fact that the woman had 5 children under the age of 10 that her husband was trying to corral while he tried to get bail money for her. This woman had no priors, was not accused of a violent crime, and was hardly a flight risk. Judges in Harris County have their little rules, and they use bonds to enforce those rules, coerce pleas, and just generally exercise their power. God help you if you piss one of them off.

Anonymous said...

Imagine the chaos it would cause if ALL defense attorneys started filing speedy trial motions. I bet you would see a change in pre trail release when case dismissals are filed because the state is not ready for trial.

Course some, not all, defense attorney are a part of the problem too. Judges are attorneys too. Come to think of it, so are prosecutors. Is there a nexus here?

gravyrug said...

What I don't understand is why the Harris County commissioners haven't jumped on this. It's costing the county quite a lot of money to house these folks. If some lawyers start to see this as a chance to sue the county, it'll cost them a lot more.

The only advantage to this is to prosecutors looking for guilty pleas and bail bond companies.

Rage Judicata said...

What I don't understand is why the Harris County commissioners haven't jumped on this. It's costing the county quite a lot of money to house these folks.

Because, like the DA's and judges, they're largely mindless morons who would rather pay higher taxes but pander to the electorate by being tuff on crime (tm) than to do the smart thing.

Rage Judicata said...

Looks like Harris County and Houston are going to get their jail built without the need for voter approval of bonds:

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/6584486.html

Interesting that tax revenues are down all over, yet the funding vehicle they want to use is a TIRZ. Which will have the effect of killing small businesses in the area, without the development of useful industry or business in the area due to the localized increase in taxes, which is what happened when they did this with Minute Maid Park.

You better hope the Smith County commissioners aren't reading the Chronicle...

Anonymous said...

Personal bonds are great for defendants and not so great for the public at large. Let's not forget that there are two aspects to release pending trial: the defendant's continued attendance AND public safety.

I suggest you take a look at the statistics for cities like the District of Columbia where the liberal wind blows nearly all pre-trial defendants back out into the street and nearly one-third of all assaults and drug offenses are committed by these angels while on personal bond.

As far as why no lawsuits: they've waived speedy trial on the advice of their lawyers. They are building up time for the plea bargain, waiting for that fer-sure alibi witness, or if you're cynical, their lawyers are waiting to get paid (it happens).

You can't sue when you've waived speedy trial. Leave it to the Houston Comical to leave out the most important fact.

I suppose if Harris County had a Public Defender you might not see anymore waivers, but you'd also see the plea offers dry up in the wind and watch the DA close all the files.

Do-gooders in the media and otherwise sometimes can benefit from some practical knowledge to temper their superior opinions.

-Sugabear-

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Sugar Bear, there's a third factor you don't name: Cost. Taxpayers can't afford to detain pretrial every petty, low-risk defendant and voters don't want to pay for another jail wing (which the county couldn't afford to staff, anyway). If it were free to incarcerate people and Harris had plenty of jail space, you might have a stronger point. But it's not, and they don't.

Also, you say "nearly all" pretrial defendants are released on PR bond in D.C., while virtually no defendants in Harris are ... there's a lot of middle ground in between that you're not acknowledging.

There's little doubt that personal bond for low-risk defendants must be a component of any jail overcrowding solution in the near term for Harris barring large tax hikes the public won't support. I don't know if that's a "liberal" or "do-gooder" position, or a "superior" one, as you snidely intone, but it's true nonetheless and anyone with "practical knowledge" surely knows it.

Anonymous said...

Government statistics are skewed as always, if you want more money show good results. Pre-trial release was investigated several years ago. It was discovered that they did not show true statistics. They provided statistics to show court appearances, however if the defendant failed to appear those statistics were hidden by having bonds revoked by the court instead of being forfeited, so that it could be truthfully recorded, consequently their numbers of appearances looked quite good, this is government smoke and mirrors 101.

This article and its Author would serve its readers much better if an actual in depth investigation into what really happens would indeed show where tax dollars are wasted beyond belief.

It’s impossible in this blog to give an on going case by case study but here is a small sample of 20 misdemeanors filed one after the other recently, and 20 felony cases filed one right after the other in the same 24 hour period. It gives you some small insight into what (really) occurs; instead of the hocus pocus this reporter wishes to represent to the public as being truthful, and meaningful information.

Felonies:

2 defendants charged with aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon/ both with several prior felonies for assault.

3 defendants charged with felony assault / they all have felony priors for assault

4 defendants charged with burglary of a habitation / all with felony priors

10 defendants charged with drugs / all but 1 has prior felonies

1 defendant charged with prostitution / 4 prior felonies

Of these 20 defendants 6 were also charged with a misdemeanor offense, all together they had 57 prior misdemeanors and 37 prior felonies, 14 are on parole or released from parole within the last 2 years, 10 have failed to appear in the past on more than one occasion on both misdemeanor and felony charges, quite a few for evading arrest, 13 plead guilty and received jail time the next day, 4 posted bond the next day, 7 already had criminal cases pending. (One defendant may have qualified for a pre-trial release, (free bond); this defendant was charged with 2 separate felony offenses).

Misdemeanors:

4 defendants charged with criminal mischief / all had prior felony convictions

4 were charged with evading arrest / all are currently charged with a felony offense as well

4 were charged with assault / all had prior records

4 were 1st offenders/ 1 DWI posted bond immediately/ 2 poss marijuana posted bond immediately/ 1 theft received a pre-trial release immediately

1 charged with prostitution/ this defendant had 5 felony and 14 misdemeanor convictions

3 charged with theft that had prior criminal records

Of these 20 defendants 16 had prior criminal records, 5 had open fugitive warrants for failure to appear in court, all together they had 23 prior felony arrests and convictions and 37 prior misdemeanor arrests and convictions, 6 plead guilty the next day for jail time, 7 posted bond immediately, 5 had criminal cases already pending, 7 were being held on felony charges, several with no bond.

Of these forty defendants, all that had the ability to post bail (did), the rest either plead guilty the next day and are serving days in jail or can not get out of jail because of their prior criminal convictions, because they are on parole or probation or because they have other warrants from other counties, or the bond is set very high because of the violent crime they are accused of committing.

This is representative of the next 20 and the next 20 and so on and so forth.

The reporter got a story, and very little actual investigation took place.

Anonymous said...

The majority of these people who could post bail, did so immediately through private bail bondsman who are responsible financially if any of them fail to appear, at no cost to tax payers. Yes they did pay a bail bondsman so it wasn’t free to the defendant or those who readily and willingly paid for their bail immediately. If they fail to appear a bail bondsman will either bring them in, or pay the full amount of the bond, which will go directly into the county treasury. The majority of those released had prior criminal records, some had failed to appear in the past while out on a pretrial release bonds, some had criminal cases already pending, some had fugitive warrants for their arrest for felony charges, and this was only 40 defendants all booked one right after the other in a quick random search in order to post this comment. You could make the case that the next 40 might not look similar, but I do this everyday of my life and you would be dead wrong. The only thing that I found surprising was that pretrial release didn’t get to the window with a bond before the bondsman did, and once again Scott, since you seem to have such great faith in government bail, and I do not, I’m happy they didn’t. I do not care to spend millions of tax dollars to provide for the release of criminal defendants who readily make bail (anyway). The money could be put to much better use in helping the indigent, in providing for health care for defendant’s and in treatment for the mentally ill, it would be better spent if the money being spent now was put on a fast horse at the track. Why would anyone want to spend money to fix something that was never broken? You will never convince anyone to let the defendants that didn’t get out, on their (promise that they will appear). I love what you do Scott but I respectfully disagree once again with your opinion of government bail. Lower the bonds on the drug cases, where no weapon is involved and let the bondsman do their job. A lot of these detainees are going to make bail if it is within reason and pretrial (free bond) is something we can all pay for in the cost of re-arresting defendants in the future, what the heck let’s pay twice, three times, sooner or later our horse is bound to come in.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

11:33/34 - I understand why someone who works in the bail bond industry would object to reducing their client base, but it's ABSURD in the current context to say bail is "free" to taxpayers. The cost of high bail is an overcrowded jail and shipping prisoners all the way to Louisiana and now Texarkana. If incarceration were free, bail would be cost-neutral. But it isn't, so it's not.

You write, "I do not care to spend millions of tax dollars to provide for the release of criminal defendants," ignoring the fact that incarcerating them pretrial costs even more.

Also, those with "open fugitive warrants for failure to appear in court" aren't eligible for personal bond, so I'm not sure why you focus on such examples. Nobody says EVERYONE should bet personal bonds, but the interests of bail bondsmen should have ZERO to do with the decision whether to require bail.

Anonymous said...

Grits: Cost is not in the statute. Continued appearance at court and public safety is. We're talking about the law, right?

Also, you want to compare apples to apples? Then why not look at the crime stats and recidivism stats in 1990's vs. today rather than just say "whoo-wee, paid bonds have grown 30,000% since '94!" and declare yourself the victor?

Perhaps the citizens of Harris County would like to go back to the summit of crime in the early nineties in exchange for a few coins, but I sincerely doubt it. If you are suggesting, as I think you are, that the policy in the early nineties was better then we need to examine the results in the early 1990's in Harris County. As someone with knowledge of these things, that's something I know you won't want to do.

I also love how some folks repeat the "non-violent petty offender" line like a worn-out mantra without a second thought - but as Anon @ 11:33 has helpfully pointed out - one can know NOTHING about an offender's danger simply by looking at the instant offense. A Harris County Judge has the benefit of looking at a defendant's entire criminal history and that's why they have the authority to set bond based, not only on the likelihood of flight, but based on the defendant's danger to the public (two factors, not three).

If someone is a "petty" crackhead who can't put together $250 to bond out, gee, I wonder what they are going to do once they get a PR bond and are on the streets with no resources and an insatiable (and expensive) itch? Sunday School? Doubtful.

Further, Mr. Crackpipe, who apparently is the most common resident of the jail, is only a "non-violent, petty offender" until he isn't. By focusing only on the current charge the Houston Comical does the public a major disservice. While state statistics are hard to come by, federal crack defendant stats show us that Ol' Cracky has a significant criminal history 88% of the time (compared to only 40% of powder cocaine offenders, and only 30% of marijuana offenders) and that The Crackster has a weapon nearly 30% of the time (double the rate of powder offenders, and quadruple the rate of marijuana offenders) [See USSC stats: www.ussc.gov].

While nationally and locally the great love-in for those sympathetic and simply huggable lil' Crack Scamps is the rage of the left in the last year or so, it defies reality and the statistics.

-Sugabear-

Anonymous said...

As I have stated before, I respect your opinion on almost every subject you voice one. There are problems that need to be given careful consideration, and I advocate using common sense.

1. I did not focus on any particular group. This was a throw a dart against the wall survey, and so I take the first 20 people that had gotten booked into jail based on a starting point in chronological order, (back to back). I can do it again and again and again, with a different starting point. It just so happens as it very often does that the majority of the felony defendants simply do not qualify. They have histories of multiple arrests and convictions, a huge portion are on parole or probation, or were recently discharged from parole or probation. Many have histories of bond forfeitures, and those date back to their original bond forfeiture when released by pretrial release the first time they were ever incarcerated.

2. The misdemeanors were done the exact same way and all but 4 had the same type
of criminal background. Many were arrested and charged with both a felony and a
misdemeanor at the same time. Some had gotten arrested within weeks of being
arrested the last time and still have those cases pending as well. The 4 that were
Released on bail immediately were first offenders. Surprisingly enough, private
bail bondsman posted three of the four, and the one that pretrial did release was
charged with theft. Ask any bail bondsman and they will tell you quickly that
defendants charged with theft or prostitution, (crimes of moral turpitude), must be
screened and qualified much better than others, because these are the criminal
defendants that frequently fail to appear, yet that person received a free
government bond.

This is an apples and oranges debate. I agree with you entirely, incarceration costs taxpayers by the wheelbarrow full. But when you associate bail with incarceration the question should be one of responsibility. By looking at this small example, there is no doubt that arrests are going to be made in Houston. The cost of incarceration is not affected by private bail, quite the opposite; government continues to be the reason for the high cost of incarceration in that they have set bail at amounts that require more than they should. I advocate lowering the bail bonds on drug cases, these criminal defendants represent a huge portion of inmates and are charged with crimes that while being a root cause for violence and theft are still in and of themselves drug crimes, and the accused in most cases was not found violating anyone’s private property, stealing, or committing a violent act at the time of arrest, many are simply users.

Anonymous said...

All I am saying, as I have many times, is that the cost of pretrial release is also a huge burden for taxpayers to bear, so the government has created two separate problems. Pretrial concentrates on trying to release those charged with low-level offenses, and if they did so because these defendants were unable to post bail then I would be in total agreement. However, that has never been the case, these criminal defendants readily post bail immediately without costing taxpayers a dime and are not the ones remaining in jail costing taxpayers even more. Pretrial is a government agency that has zero accountability and so therefore can only be measured by their non-appearance ratios. They are releasing those that get out immediately because they qualify, and are basically unable to guarantee that the more serious offenders will ever appear in court. Lower the bonds so that a responsible party can help reduce jail overcrowding. Bail bondsmen are just as reliable when the bail is small as when it is ridiculous. I would rather see the bonds lowered and someone responsible guarantee court appearance, than release defendants for free, except where true indigence is in question for low-level offenders, what purpose can they possibly serve by releasing people who by no stretch of the imagination require taxpayers to post their bond for free.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Sugarbear writes, "We're talking about the law, right?"

Answer: The law gives judges discretion, and judges must live in the real world where mundane items like cost are certainly relevant. The law gives judges full authority to do what I'm suggesting.

Also, there are many petty offenders in the Harris County jail besides "Mr. Crackpipe," but there's also little evidence the current approach is helping much to reduce the number of crack addicts, since the same offenders cycle in and out over and over. I forget who first said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.

You make a strong point about Houston's early '90s crime problem, but that was also the highest crime period nationally and Houston's declines since then have been LESS dramatic than the nation as a whole. I hardly think there's credible evidence to attribute high bail to crime decreases that occurred in many other jurisdictions without that policy.

To 9:28/29 we agree that "they have set bail at amounts that require more than they should." I think Sugarbear's earlier concern that without high bail the acceptance rate for "plea offers [will] dry up in the wind" is the main motivation for seeking high bail.

But I see a contradiction in your claim that "these criminal defendants readily post bail immediately without costing taxpayers a dime and are not the ones remaining in jail costing taxpayers even more." That simply ignores reality. The jail wouldn't be full of pretrial defendants if that were accurate.

Finally, this isn't just me talking: The American Bar Association and the National District Attorneys Association have both called for eliminating commercial bail. The United States and the Phillipines are the only nations in the world that still use commercial bail, which makes me think that it's not nearly as difficult to find other workarounds for the problems you describe as the dire "sky is falling" predictions might suggest.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I have no problem with doing away with private bail bondsman - just not with bond security to keep those that have no support system and are likely to re-offend as soon as they hit the bricks inside the jail. Do it like the feds do with the payments made to the court registry.

And who said anything about jail being therapeutic or reducing the number of addicts? The only thing most Harris County residents are concerned with is reducing the number of crackheads thieving, skiving, and generally causing a ruckus on the streets. I'm happy to see someone reform, and if you can pry detox and rehab beds from Gov. Goodhair and the Republicans in Austin, I'll support you, but it's hardly my number one concern compared to innocents getting abused by offenders that should never have been released on PR.

As for the "great crime decline" since the early 1990's, just as I can't tie it all to the demise of PR bonds neither can you eliminate the rise of pre-trial incarceration as a factor in Harris County. So, at best, it's a wash and I'd rather not start an experiment to see how many crackheads decide to carjack my mother's new car (clunker be gone!) because they've been released on their own (poor) recognizance, thanks very much.

However, I'm all for bussing all the drug addicts and other assorted miscreants from Harris County Jail to Austin for y'all to conduct the experiment - sort of a reversal of Travis County's bussing of mental patients to Harris County back in the 1990's.

You probably thought we forgot about that. ;)

-Sugabear-

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Sugarbear, if incarceration doesn't reduce the number of crack addicts, then in the long run it won't reduce "the number of crackheads thieving, skiving, and generally causing a ruckus on the streets." You're promoting a fallacy that expanding incarceration ad infinitum to house folks on drug beefs is a real-world possibility, when in reality even if/when they get sent to state jail on their less than a gram charge, they're back again post haste with the same problems they had before. You can't lock 'em up forever.

Both of us want to reduce crack-related victimization of innocents, but I don't think that happens in the long run without reducing the number of hard-core addicts.

You also ignore the negative collateral consequences of incarceration. According to Houston-specific data from the Urban Institute, about 69% of offenders are employed legally before their offense, and if they lose their jobs because they're stuck in jail that makes recidivism more likely and reduces the chance of victim restitution. The goal of the system isn't just temporary incapacitation, it's promoting positive behaviors that prevent reoffending. Jail, especially pretrial, typically doesn't accomplish that goal.

Also, if Harris' crime declined LESS than other jurisdictions but Harris implemented high bail while others continued to use PR bonds, then attributing Harris' crime decline to high bail strikes me as less than convincing. It's not a wash - the evidence pretty strongly implies that's not been a dispositive factor.

Finally, as for shipping your problems to Austin, Harris already has the rest of the state paying disproportionately for incarcerating people it sends to prison, which y'all do at a FAR higher rate than other jurisdictions. So we're already paying to clean up yall's messes and would just like you act a little more responsibly to reduce some of the costs Harris routinely pawns off on the rest of the state.

Anonymous said...

The only reason for the dart in the wall survey was to show why so many are still in jail with misdemeanor offenses.

It’s easy to just count the cases, but when you add to it the facts, then you find that many also have much more serious felony charges that are keeping them incarcerated, or the fact that they were just released from jail and still have cases that have not been adjudicated, or the fact that they are on parole or probation.

I reiterate once again that not one, (not one), class c misdemeanor defendant stays in the Harris County Jail for more than 24 hours, and very few if (any) first offenders for any other misdemeanor remains in custody for more than 24 hours.

I have no earthly idea what reality you are looking at, I look everyday and unless they are hiding misdemeanor defendants that only you know about I think you would be hard pressed to prove your statement.

I understand very well that you do not agree with the 8th amendment.

The problem as I see it encompasses a reality check for all those who assume that the criminal defendant in today’s society is going to come to court to face their accuser after being released from custody on their promise that they will appear.

For all practical purposes you would either have to advocate not arresting anyone for anything, or require everyone to pay the full amount of bail in order to get released with no safeguards for the presumed innocent.

The only other solution might be paying a percentage to the court; in this instance the bond would actually represent a $500.00 bond and not a $5000 dollar bond. This mentality might bring some immediate revenue into county coffers but still has no sense of responsibility; if no one is going to be responsible, why go to all the effort of arresting them.

I will say it again, the bondsman doesn’t care if the bond is high or low, and every single bond represents a loss if the defendant fails to appear.

(LOWER THE DRUG BONDS), the bondsman will get the defendant to court.

Anonymous said...

Grits: Since incarceration is a direct deterrence it absolutely reduces recidivism in the short term due to incapacitation. 100%if you don't count crimes in jail - and frankly, most Harris County residents wouldn't.

The "alternatives" that many well intentioned people promote are not solutions at all. It's a nice theory. "Promoting positive behaviors" is a lot like world peace or a perpetual motion machine. There are vague assurances that there is a "better way" without any concrete plan to be implemented for the tens of thousands of people under supervision, let alone a way to sell it to the Texas pols and the electorate. And nary a shred of evidence that most alternatives, from boot camps to rehabs, can work on a larger scale - or sometimes - at all.

First of all, just taking addiction, you know full well that the % of drug abusers, cocaine users in particular, that do manage to get treatment and yet slide back into addiction is nearly 65% within 90 days. Some NIDA studies in the 1980's suggested as high as 80% within the first year. It's the dirty little secret of rehab that no one ever wants to address. That's abject failure in about 3 out of 4 in a treatment population that, currently, is typically much richer with much better support systems in place than your average Harris County inmate that can't throw for a $250 bail payment.

The best cure for addiction, and as it happens crime in general, is age. Demographic changes have proven to impact crime more significantly than any other factor. The last 20 years have blown holes in the poverty theory (the % of poor folks is higher than ever), the economic theory (violent crime continues to plummet during the recession), and do we really need to waste time on more unproven theories?

I prefer the 100% solution for recidivists until they are too old to poke, toke, or assault good folk.

I'll agree it's costly, but I don't believe in allowing other people to suffer because I want to save a few shekels in taxes. And since far, far more statewide tax revenue comes from the Houston area I think you can oblige our desires.

-Sugabear-

Gritsforbreakfast said...

So your solution, Sugarbear, is to propose something that cannot and will not occur (we can't afford to fully staff our current prisons and jails, much less build and staff new ones), and then oppose any other approaches if the impossibility you propose does not occur, is that about right?

That's just pure obstructionism, which is easy to suggest as an an anonymous blog commenter. But there are practical concerns of governance that are more immediately important than your fantasies of an ever expanding American Gulag.

A related question: Do you vote for candidates who say they'll raise your taxes? If that's what you want, maybe you need to start.

To my bail bondsmen friend, state jail felony bonds are the category generating the most volume of offenders categorized as "low-risk", particularly less than a gram drug offenders - I never said misdemeanors. Harris actually does a pretty good job of keeping misdemeanants out of the jail on the front end, a lot better than many other counties.

Anonymous said...

Man, nobody is talking about Probationers sitting in this jail for technical violations. almost a 1000 sit there waiting for a court date.
Grits has talked about this many times in the past, why is this being ignored now?

Anonymous said...

Thank you Scott for your acknowledgement about the misdemeanors; which brings me back to my point that these folks are in fact the ones that pretrial release concentrates their focus. This would be fine if pretrial release were a volunteer service and not a taxpayer funded service, tax dollars are in fact being spent to fix a problem that was never broken to begin with. These low-level defendants do make bail anyway, and private bail has a much better track record than pretrial release for getting defendants to the last court hearing and not just a few before the last one.

The state jail felons are predominantly drug users, so if the bonds were lowered the majority of these who do not have other issues keeping them incarcerated could in fact make bail and at least someone would be responsible for their eventual adjudication.

The last blogger makes a good point as well, the probation violations are also candidates for lower bail.

Then we have more and more presumed innocent defendants being incarcerated for 30 days because they failed a drug test supervised by pretrial release. This would be fine too except we have no place to put them, if they fail a drug test then require a drug program, there are free ones available. These are the same defendants that just made bail last week or last month. If someone were to investigate whether or not this is effective, then we must also argue if the 30 day incarceration has any (real) effect, the answer in both scenarios is no, but at least one is free, and doesn’t impact the jail even more.

The judges can take a strong stand on drugs but if they are going to do this with the threat of a Federal Court ordering the release of defendants in an overcrowded jail then what is the point.

Again I say let pretrial begin some honest work and utilize tax dollars to advocate the release of the indigent, the mentally ill, and those who have other health issues. Furthermore, let them work hand in hand with bondsmen and split the large bonds, in this way the actual bond is cut in half making it more likely that defendant can and will make bond, real financial responsibility still exists, and pretrial can add whatever conditions the court wishes to order.

All I keep saying is do something constructive, reasonable, responsible and cost effective. It really could be done easily enough and (shazam!), the jail population is immediately reduced, the indigent begin to actually get shot a the same presumption of innocence that those who can afford to get themselves arrested have, some real help can be provided on overall health issues, and maybe, just maybe some of those saved tax dollars can be used to help the mentally ill.

This isn’t rocket science, its plain old practical common sense, take the paint from the bucket and put it on the wall.

Anonymous said...

Nice avoidance there Grits. I don't deny that "my solution" is to keep the status quo, more or less, and other than it costing money it's certainly a proven solution.

Your solution, as best I can tell since you're being very coy, is to expand PR application broadly, especially for those "low risk" offenders whose sometimes vast criminal history (and likelihood of a criminal future) is apparently of no concern to you. All of this regardless of the provisions of the LAW which, once again, only concern attendance and community risk - not rehabilitation, not cost, not saving the whales and planting flowers, ONLY attendance and RISK.

Your solution not only ignores the legal basis for pre-trial release but the basic duty of any government to protect it's citizens. You suggest pushing the most vulnerable defendants, without a cent to their name and often an expensive habit, right out the door just to see what happens.

No thanks.

In a perfect world we could institute a program to try and dry out the 30% or so for whom it might take and any reasonable person would support that. But that money is not forthcoming and, time and again, the voters in Texas have not proven to be so reasonable. You know it and I know it. This isn't about "rehabilitation" or any practical solution this is about a philosophical and emotional antagonism to the "American Gulag." While that wins you points at the coffee shop in Austin over a latte, for someone who proclaims to be pragmatic about these issues I see very little evidence of a honest workable alternative here.

If Harris County voters are shying away from building new city jails there is no way in hell you're getting them to pony up dollars for rehab beds or any other needed support for a vastly increased pre-release population. Period. Without any support structure even the most "pure" minor offender is going to end up right back where he or she started - in jail. There are no cost savings there. Certainly a majority of the recidivists are going to commit the same petty offenses, but there is always that 1% - and your "solution" doesn't give much solace to those victims.

And the best you can come up with is "it's expensive"? This is an awfully odd time to become Ron Paul.

In a perfect world "my solution" certainly isn't the best solution. But it's the only workable solution on the table that doesn't expose innocent citizens to preventable crime. The status quo is always better than NO SOLUTION, which is all you have to offer so far.

HTH.

And P.S.: if you don't find "anonymous" arguments challenging the "Revealed Truth of Grits" to be helpful then turn off the comments section to all except your most devoted supplicants.

-Sugabear-

Gritsforbreakfast said...

SB, FWIW I've not been "coy" at all about my proposed solutions, I've just written about them elsewhere many, many times and so haven't repeated them here.

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