Thursday, August 20, 2015

Bail reform promoted in wake of Sandra Bland tragedy

The Houston Chronicle's Leah Binkowitz has a story (Aug. 19) titled, "Bail reform urged after Sandra Bland death." In it, Johnny Mata of the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice declared, "The death of Sandra Bland was a travesty of justice." "Sandra Bland would probably be alive today if Texas would've had a system that is fair," he said. Here's how these groups framed the issue:
His coalition reflects more than 25 organizations across the area. He was joined Wednesday by experts like law professor Sandra Guerra Thompson, director of the University of Houston Law Center's Criminal Justice Institute, who said the need for bail reform is a national concern but is especially needed in Houston.

By following pre-determined bail schedules, magistrates ignore their responsibility to take individual factors into consideration to ensure that the does not merely become a punishment for being poor, she and others argued. Instead it's meant to reflect an individual's flight risk and potential public safety concerns. Had a more nuanced risk assessment instrument been used in Bland's case, she argued, "the question would not be, 'Does she have $500?' but, 'Is she a risk to come to court?'"

Representatives of the Harris County Sheriff's Office and the Texas Jail Association could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Bland's case is not unique.

"There are far too many people in Texas jails and prisons that don't need to be there," said Brandon Dudley, legal counsel for state Sen. Rodney Ellis. Many of those individuals, some 75 percent in Harris County jails, are detained simply because they cannot pay their bail.
Longtime readers will recognize these groups are singing my song. Grits' preference would be to shift away from money bail entirely and go to a risk assessment system. These debates are happening all over the country, not just in Texas, but the poignancy of the Sandra Bland tragedy gives the push here extra energy and focus.


Anonymous said...

"Is she a risk to come to court?"
Ms. Bland had a lengthy history of failing to show up for previous court proceedings, still had a legal residence out of state, and had no job though she was interviewing for a temporary, one month position so under a risk assessment program, she would not have been eligible for a PR bond under any suggested reforms.

Roadsidebetty said...

Why is the bond business a business anyway bondsmen make their percentage and when these individuals don't show up to court they dont get charged for the forfeit anyway. ? So why don't the courts offer cash bonds to people and offer a percentage of that be refundable for showing up to court. It's known in states where the courts do this more people follow thru and come to court. Cuts down on all the cycles we burn so bonds men and insurance companies can make money at the expense of everyone else. Gross