I've come to think of the Harris County Criminal Justice Center as Grand Central Station for Houston's misery, an opinion that was only hardened when I recently spent a few mornings observing our courts handle jail inmates charged with misdemeanors.She points to a report published last year from Houston Ministers Against Crime which:
Every day about mid-morning in Harris County's 15 Criminal Courts-at-law, a door swings open and six to 10 men wearing orange jail jumpsuits, usually shackled together in a long train, are directed by a sheriff's deputy to march in front of the judge's bench. (Women are handled separately, and often appear alone.)
Responding to a (frequently bored-sounding) judge who appears to be reading from a script, they all plead guilty. The question-"How do you plead?" - is a rhetorical one, of course. The judge, the prosecutors, the court-appointed lawyers, in fact, everyone in the courthouse knows that these criminal defendants have been offered a Hobson's choice. That is, no choice at all: Take a guilty plea, or sit in jail until you can have a trial and plead not guilty. When that time rolls around, you'll have spent more time in the slammer than if you pled guilty.
concluded that expediency seems to dominate equity. Instead of taking into account a defendant's economic circumstances, as required by the state "Harris County rarely deviates from its predetermined bail schedules." Jailing people who have not yet been convicted of even a petty crime is unjust - and costly to taxpayers, the report said. "The rigidity of these rules contributes to high pre-trial detention rates in Harris County and exacerbates the County's budget woes."See the full report (pdf).
See also related Grits posts:
- Harris jail noncompliance caused by use of pretrial detention to coerce plea deals
- Bail bondsmen not hurting for business in Harris County
- Bail bond industry seeks to retain monopoly
- Reduce Harris County Jail costs through smarter policies
- Increased Harris County Jail costs, inmate numbers third highest in nation over last decade
- Reduce pretrial detention to stave off overcrowding
- Elected Officials Guide to Jail Population Management
- Judges have tools to reduce Harris jail overcrowding if they'll use them
- Counties that rejected new jails must now get serious about diversion
- Pretrial detention, unnecessary incarceration driving Texas jail overcrowding
- Bail blunders boost bulging Harris jail population
- Extra bail conditions: When tough on crime means tough on taxpayers
- Should county government subsidize bail bond companies?
- Lack of counsel, information are bail barriers