Grits' note (the blogger, not the conference!): Amanda Woog, the youngest of this blog's fabulous new contributors, was first introduced to Grits readers in this podcast about her research on police shootings. Grits first met Ms. Woog when she showed up as a standout policy attorney for the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee this past session who, as near as I can tell, impressed everyone who met her. Before that, she clerked for Judge Cheryl Johnson at the Court of Criminal Appeals and was an intern at the Office of Capital Writs during law school, so now we have someone else on the blog who can talk writs! It's going to be fun having new voices in the mix. Thank you, Amanda! I couldn't be more pleased to have you writing here.
Monday, November 02, 2015
GRITS Conference Brings Attention to Bail, Fee Reform
This weekend, your correspondent had the pleasure of attending the first-ever Getting Radical in the South Conference (GRITS – no affiliation with this blog) at the University of Texas School of Law. The conference gathered lawyers and activists from all over the country, but predominantly the South, to discuss radical lawyering and organizing. While the conference covered subjects ranging from immigration to policing to voting rights, criminal justice (or “criminal injustice,” as some participants preferred) emerged as the major topic of the weekend. Particularly relevant to recent developments in Texas was a discussion on bail and fee reform.
The keynote speaker was Alec Karakatsanis, cofounder of the nonprofit Equal Justice Under the Law out of Washington, D.C. He and his team of lawyers have been filing legal challenges across the United States to local jurisdictions’ practices of jailing people solely because they are too poor to pay bail or fees. Equal Justice has been very successful in arguing that the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses forbid courts from jailing indigent defendants who – for no other reason than being indigent – cannot come up with the money to stay out of jail. So far, Equal Justice has amassed wins in Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee, and has also filed lawsuits in Georgia and most recently, California.
Between Mr. Karakatsanis’s group making its way westward and through the South, the Texas Fair Defense Project’s having filed a lawsuit last week in Austin challenging the city’s practice of jailing people for being unable to pay fines and fees, and the ubiquitous use of bail schedules in Texas, it is only a matter of time before Texas’s practices are also subject to legal scrutiny. And political scrutiny should be forthcoming as well: the Texas Judicial Council’s Criminal Justice Committee is currently working on a study on pretrial confinement in Texas, which will hopefully be released ahead of the next legislative session. Pending litigation and new policy research may create the perfect storm for meaningful bail and fee reform in 2017.
The GRITS conference was a great success, and my only wish is that the conference had started back when I was at UT Law 2009-2012. Major kudos go to the students and organizations that made it happen.