David Slayton of the Office of Court Administration told the reporter that a committee convened by the Texas Judicial Council "reviewed national research last fall on this issue that shows when defendants are low risk their chances of reoffending later increases every day they remain in jail. 'In other words, it makes them worse,' he said. 'That’s obviously counter to what the judges want happening. That’s counter to what society at large wants.'"
Slayton said there’s also all the side issues that come with an individual who is too poor to make bond.The solution, Slayton told the reporter, is for courts to use risk assessments and to give low-risk defendants more personal bonds:
“They’re probably just making it, so they’re losing their job, their house, their car, maybe losing family, and it creates issues with child support and divorces,” he stated. "The societal problems just compound.”
Slayton said the [Judicial Council] Committee’s trying to provide risk-assessment information to judges so they can make better decisions on an ongoing basis.And they offered a local judge's perspective on why this hadn't been done before:
“With that respect, if judges have that information, they might release people on pre-trial personal bonds,” Slayton said. “Basically, without requiring them to put up cash of some sort, or it would be a low enough bond that the defendant could make. Therefore, we would expect the population of jail to decrease significantly."
Judge Ben Woodward, with the 119th Judicial District Court in Tom Green County, reiterated the concern that the longer a defendant sits in jail, he or she loses a job, family and support.
Woodward said Tom Green County judges looked into a process where someone would interview people when they came to jail and make a determination if they had a drug addiction, to perhaps expedite that case because that person needed to be in treatment, as opposed to sitting in jail.
"So those need to be expedited," he said. "That requires manpower that we don’t have, and requires some cooperation among a lot of people involved: the jail, all the attorneys, district attorneys, defense attorneys, and we don’t have that system set up right now. I’d like to see something like that."
Woodward added that the judges made an attempt at this several years ago, but they tried to implement it before they got all the attorneys and district attorneys on board. “They weren’t familiar with what we were trying to accomplish, and without everybody being comfortable with what we’re trying to do, it just didn’t go anywhere. Maybe, one day, we could try it again," Woodward said.