county officials have begun to implement several new strategies to streamline cases, conduct better pretrial risk assessments, and provide counsel to people at bail hearings. Some of these measures are funded under the county’s MacArthur grant. These new processes will provide some relief to poor people who cannot afford to bail out. However, people with the money to bail out will still be released a few hours after arrest, putting them in a far superior position to defend themselves against the pending charges and enabling them to keep their personal lives intact. Letting people bail out quickly—without doing a risk assessment—also allows dangerous people to get out of jail with lightning speed. The county’s new improvements do help the poor slobs who get stuck in jail for lack of bail money, but all that these improvements really do is to ameliorate the unfairness of a broken system; they don’t fix the fundamental problems.
1. Require defendants arrested for jailable misdemeanors and felonies to be assessed using a validated pretrial risk assessment prior to appearance before a magistrate under Article 15.17, Code of Criminal Procedure;
2. Amend the Texas Constitution bail provision and related bail statutes to provide for a presumption of pretrial release through personal bond, leaving discretion with judges to utilize all existing forms of bail;
3. Amend the Texas Constitution and enact related statutes to provide that defendants posing a high flight risk and/or high risk to community safety may be held in jail without bail pending trial after certain findings are made by a magistrate and a detention hearing is held;
4. Provide funding to ensure that pretrial supervision is available to defendants released on a pretrial release bond so that those defendants are adequately supervised;
5. Provide funding to ensure that magistrates making pretrial release decisions are adequately trained on evidence-based pretrial decision-making and appropriate supervision levels;
6. Ensure that data on pretrial release decisions is collected and maintained for further review;
7. Expressly authorize the Court of Criminal Appeals to adopt any necessary rules to implement the provisions enacted by the Legislature pursuant to these recommendations; and
8. Provide for a sufficient transition period to implement the provisions of these recommendations.The report mentioned above elaborates on each recommendation. See also a summary of the recommendations offered to the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee in September.