Sunday, April 03, 2016

Bail reform roundup

A few bail reform tidbits merit readers' attention:

See a writeup from a UH-Law School symposium held earlier this year titled "Police, Jails, and Vulnerable People: New Strategies for Confronting Today's Challenges." They've published fairly detailed notes from the event and videos of each speech and panel. From the release:
Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, gave a keynote address expressing strong support for bail reform in the next legislative session.  "Bail is not supposed to be punishment," he said. "It is to make sure you show up." He argued that people charged with low-level, nonviolent offenses should not be jailed simply because they are poor, and that jail should be reserved for dangerous people.  Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said bail reform would be his "highest priority next session," adding that he would have "zero tolerance" for jail suicide.
The Texas A&M Public Policy Institute is conducting a study of pretrial practices in Travis and Tarrant Counties for the Judicial Council, reports UH law prof Sandra Guerra Thompson.  The report is due out later this year. Lynda Frost of the Hogg Foundation had an op ed in the McAllen Monitor in which she declared, "The pretrial process does not need to be a trap into which low-income people with mental illness disproportionately fall."  Her observations remind me of a Houston Chronicle piece published last month titled "Proposed bail reforms offer support to the ill."

On related themes, here's a summary of litigation in other states on excessive pretrial detention from the Pretrial Justice Institute. Here’s a NY Times article on bail reform as it relates to broader “debtor’s prison” issues. And here's a new piece from the ABA Journal titled, "Court systems rethink the use of financial bail, which some say penalizes the poor."

In D.C., bill proposed in Congress by California Democrat Ted Lieu has been dubbed the “No Money Bail Act of 2016.” See Reason's coverage of the bill.


Gunny Thompson said...

Point of Interest: 60 Minutes, on Sunday, April 03. 2016, aired a segment that's is instructive for this country's method of punishment of its convicted crime violators.
The piece suggest that a strong punishment against crime and incarceration may be counter-productive. I would agree. Additionally, I strongly suggest that the Death Penalty is in violation of this country's Hate Crime laws by its implemented against Black Folks.

Anonymous said...

Not until you and similar like minded individuals, groups bring Smith county Nazism government front and center then all work is for not.

Anonymous said...

There was also a good article from March 29 in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram "TEXAS PUNISHES PEOPLE WHO CAN'T AFFORD TO POST BAIL." highlights from story:

By Lynda Frost
Special to the Star-Telegram

* * *
Consider who is in our jails right now. In many instances, nearly two-thirds of Texas jail inmates are awaiting trial, considered legally innocent, but unable to post bail.

In some counties, this statistic is more extreme. During February, more than 75 percent of detained individuals at the Tarrant County Jail were awaiting trial, according to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

And on any given day, Texas jails are holding more than 6,400 people awaiting trial who have symptoms of serious mental illness.

The money bail system pushes people who cannot afford to post bail into a difficult choice.

They can either maintain their innocence and stay in jail, where they probably will jeopardize their mental health, family relationships, jobs and housing. Or they can plead guilty.

Research shows that even short periods of incarceration can negatively affect a person’s health.

Once jailed, people no longer have access to mental health treatments. They face disruptions in medication access, a loss of social support and a greater risk of abuse.

Jails are designed to be correctional settings, not therapeutic ones.

Unable to purchase their freedom, unconvicted jail detainees are seven times as likely to commit suicide as their convicted peers.

An ineffective bail system defined by high costs and few rewards survives because it stands upon a structure of perverse incentives.

First, bail money profits the powerful bail bond lobby. Second, the financial bail system increases pressure on defendants to plead guilty, which speeds up pretrial proceedings for overwhelmed court dockets.

Bail reform provides a unique opportunity to divert Texans from sinking deeper and deeper into the criminal justice system.

To change the system, we need to abandon money bail schemes and adopt a front-end diversion strategy like that enabled by the Public Safety Assessment tool recently developed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

The Public Safety Assessment is a data-driven tool that uses unbiased risk factors to help judges determine whether a defendant should be released into the community safely, released under supervision, or detained while awaiting trial.

The assessment would decrease current pretrial detention costs, reduce future recidivism and, most important, improve mental health outcomes for vulnerable Texans.

By adopting a risk-based assessment tool, Texas can once again take the lead in transforming the criminal justice landscape.

Lynda Frost is the director of planning and programs for the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health at The University of Texas at Austin.

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