Thursday, February 02, 2017

Texas Chief Justice Decries the "Nonsense" of Money-Based Bail in "State of the Judiciary" Address

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht urged state lawmakers to enact bail reform in this legislative session.  In his "State of the Judiciary" address, the Republican jurist's impassioned address began by pointing out that in only twenty years, the percentage of people in Texas jails awaiting trials skyrocketed from about 33% of all jail inmates to 75%  of all inmates.

Justice Hecht reminded lawmakers that "[l]iberty is precious to Americans and any deprivation must be scrutinized."  He said, "Many who are arrested cannot afford a bail bond and remain in jail awaiting a hearing.  Though presumed innocent, they lose their jobs and families, and are more likely to re-offend.  And if all this weren't bad enough, taxpayers must shoulder the cost--a staggering $1 billion per year."

He also criticized the current money-based system for getting it wrong on both accounts:  keeping the wrong people in jail while also releasing the wrong people  from jail.  Instead of making decisions based on the risks that individuals pose, the current system bases release on a person's ability to pay. He said, "Those who are arrested and cannot afford their bail are forced to remain in jail until their trial date, even if they pose no threat to the community and no flight risk."

The senior jurist gave a poignant example of the "nonsense" of the current system:

"Take a recent case in point from The Dallas Morning News.  A middle-aged woman arrested for shoplifting $105 worth of clothing for her grandchildren sat in jail almost two months because bail was set at $150,000--far more than all her worldly goods.  Was she a threat to society? No.  A flight risk? No.  Cost to taxpayers?  $3,300.  Benefit: we punished grandma.  Was it worth it? No.  And add to the nonsense, Texas law limits judges' power to detain high-risk defendants.  High-risk defendants, a threat to society, are freed; low-risk defendants sit in jail, a burden on taxpayers.  This makes no sense."

Instead of relying solely on money bail as a determinant of a person's release, Justice Hecht and the Judicial Council have called for state lawmakers to create a new system that relies instead on validated risk assessments and evidence based supervision practices. He noted that several counties in Texas already use risk assessments and concluded:  "The Judicial Council recommends that this be standard practice throughout Texas. Liberty, and common sense, demand reform."

MORE: See coverage of Chief Justice Hecht's speech from the Texas Tribune.


Anonymous said...

Holy shit, this is the first time in my life I've ever heard a republican make a statement that goes against their mantra of being "tough on crime".

Steve said...

This is long overdue. There are risk assessments available that will help keep the truly dangerous in jail, and allow the low risk offenders the opportunity to keep their jobs, feed their families, etc. However, expect a fight from those who make money off the current system.

Unknown said...

The Chief Justice referenced three core conservative concerns: liberty (especially as it affects people who are presumed innocent), fiscal concerns (costs to county taxpayers), and public safety (keeping dangerous people locked up).

Anonymous said...

What do you expect when the Courts, Attorney's,Bail Bondsmen, and police work together against the people. Thank you President Trump for causing Public Employees to re-evaluate their positions and following the Rule of Law.

Anonymous said...

I have a loved one sitting in Harris county right now and has been there eight months because my 10 year old great grand daughter said he touch improperly, and we can prove she lied. he can't get a reasonable bond because he did commit a crime 25 years ago. This happened after her little friend at school told her if there is someone you don't all you have to do is tell the police they touched you and the police will remove them. So he has been in the county since last may and been attacked by a bigger inmate and ended up in Ben Taub hospital. When I found out they tried to tell me he had acid reflux. I'm not stupid I knew it was not acid reflux but ther is nothing you can do about these things.