Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Pretrial detention leads to disparate justice, case outcomes

Lise Olsen at the Houston Chronicle had a story yesterday titled, "Study: Inmates who can't afford bond face tougher sentences" which details the findings in this new study published Aug. 30. Her article opened:
Criminal defendants too poor to bail out of jail prior to trial typically end up with a harsher punishment in Harris County than those with resources to pay for their freedom, according to a new study of more than 6,500 cases.

The study showed that the poor and others locked up weeks or months pretrial often pay in advance for alleged crimes - even when proven innocent - and usually end up with tougher punishments, too, according to an analysis by Gerald R. Wheeler, a Ph.D. researcher who served as director of the Harris County pretrial department from 1977-83. Wheeler and attorney Gerald Fry examined felony and misdemeanor cases processed in Harris County from January 2012 to June 2013.

Many defendants unable to post bond spent weeks or months in jail awaiting punishment even for relatively minor offenses, such as possession of small amounts of drugs or misdemeanor charges like trespassing.

For example, first-time felony offenders who were unable to post bond spent an average of 68 days in jail before having their cases resolved, the study showed. Those who remained jailed for drug possession - a common charge among Harris County jail inmates - were much less likely to win dismissals or deferred prosecutions than those able to afford to bail out, the study showed.
According to the report, defendants able to make bail experience:
  • 86% fewer pretrial jail days
  • 333% better chance of getting deferred adjudication 
  • 30% better chance of having all charges dismissed 
  • 24% less chance of being found guilty, and
  • 54% fewer jail days sentence
Another remarkable detail: "In drug possession cases, 55 percent of those who remained in jail got deferred prosecution or had cases dismissed compared to 83 percent of those who posted bond." That's an extraordinary disparity.

The study also exposed the falsity of claims by surety bondsmen that their clients are more likely to behave pretrial than if they received a personal bond.  “'Surety' bond defendants have higher bond forfeiture and revocation rates than personal bond defendants. However, little differences in absconder rates were found between financial and non-financial bail cases," the analysis found.


Lee said...

better to be rich and guilty than poor and innocent

Anonymous said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again - the bail bonds system is set up to make money for the bondsmen (who donate to the campaigns of the sheriffs and judges) and the counties. It has very little to do with public safety or criminal justice.

Alan said...

I get the intuitive correlation between financial inability to bond out and financial inability to engage high-powered representation. But does this study suggest a causative relation, along this line?: "Defendant incarcerated awaiting trial may get credit for time served, so let's boost his sentence to ensure we net as much post-conviction time behind bars as a bonded-out defendant would have gotten."

Anonymous said...

Whether it is private or county run bail bond program, aren't they all money driven? Don't you have to pay a probation department or the county if you are on a county pre-trial bond program?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@4:05, the amounts differ by order of magnitude. On personal bonds I think they pay the county a $20 or so fee. Surety bonds charge 15% or so of the bond amount.

Also, probationers must pay fees as part of their punishment. People released pretrial are presumed innocent. In counties where they do pretrial drug testing through the probation department it has created problems because there's no revenue stream to pay for the pretrial part.

Alan, I'm afraid I can't answer that question. Contact the study authors. They may be able to offer an informed opinion.

Anonymous said...

In some counties, probation departments supervise pre-trial bond defendants and no monthly fee is paid. Just because the fee is statutory doesn't mean the fee is always ordered. And, the defendant should pay a fee. It is a fee for service. Probation Departments aren't given money by TDCJ-CJAD to operate Bond Services.