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Bail reform for Harris County?

This would be a big deal.

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In jails across the country, including Harris County, a majority of the people behind bars have not been convicted of a crime. In the jail complex on the north side of downtown Houston, more than 6,600 people, about three-quarters of the prisoners there, are waiting to go to trial. Each one costs taxpayers about $45 a day.

Those prisoners are there because they can’t afford to pay bail, the debt a judge imposes to make sure defendants return to court.

Advocates for bail reform have said the system can be burdensome for low-income defendants, saying it inhibits their ability to go back to work, support their families and aid in their own defense.

Leaders at both the local at state level are now looking at ways to change that, possibly allowing defendants charged with lower level crimes to remain free without bail, but with a pledge to return to court. They will use a screening process that can predict whether defendants will return to court or if they might commit more crimes if released.

Earlier this month, Nathan Hecht, the Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, announced the creation of a committee to study the issue for the Texas Judicial Council, the policy-making body for the state judiciary. Depending on the results, they may throw their support behind changes in the next legislative session.

Hecht said a recent report by the National Conference of Chief Justices showed that bail for suspects of non-violent crime, like drug offenses, is an unnecessary expense.

“It doesn’t help them and it doesn’t help the criminal justice system and it doesn’t help society,” he said. “It just creates additional burdens. If it’s easy to avoid and you end up at the same place, why wouldn’t you do it?”

Hecht said he wants to be able to prove that point before advocating for a change.

“The District of Columbia is pretty far along in revamping their system so that bail is not required,” Hecht said. “We’ll have Texas look at this and see if we can’t make some improvements.”

[…]

Some of those who oppose changing the system are the bail bondsmen who stand to lose business.

“Who’s going to chase these people when they miss court?” said Michael Kubosh, a bail bondsman and a city councilman. “You’re going to have to hire more government people to do it.”

When defendants use a bondsman to secure bail, they pay a fee-10 percent or more of the bail amount-and pledge collateral, usually property or automobiles, for the remaining amount.

If a defendant does not show up for court, the bondsman either has to pay the entire bail or go on a manhunt.

“If someone has a financial interest, then we can get ‘Billy Bob’ to show back up because someone will produce them,” Kubosh said. “Their mom will produce them before she’ll lose her house.”

He noted the cost of current system is paid by the people accused of crimes, not spread among taxpayers.

“If they miss court, a bondsman is financially obligated to the state to get these people back in custody,” he said. “We monitor every one of them every day, at no cost to the taxpayer.”

All due respect to CM Kubosh, but Harris County doesn’t owe bail bondsmen a living. The issue here isn’t with the people who make bail, it’s with the many people who can’t, and who as a result sit in jail – for which the taxpayers do foot the cost – even though they haven’t been convicted of anything and may never be convicted of anything, or – even worse – plead guilty to something they didn’t do in order to get out of jail. Basically, some number of people – more than is the case now – need to be released on their own recognizance, and more people need to be assessed a lower and more affordable bail amount. The goal here is to have fewer people in jail at any time, which is both more just and less expensive. If that means leaner times for the bail bonding business, well, that’s okay by me. The tradeoff is more than worth it.

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14 Comments

  1. Therese says:

    Did you happen to see John Oliver’s piece about this very issue on “Last Week Tonight?” It was brilliant. Happy to see someone taking this seriously in Texas. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=IS5mwymTIJU

  2. Steven Houston says:

    “He noted the cost of current system is paid by the people accused of crimes, not spread among taxpayers.”

    With all due respect to Mr. Kubosh as well, those people ARE ALSO taxpayers and the more burdens you place on someone prior to conviction, the less fair the system tends to be. Is there any way to restore the accused financially under the current system (not really)? So while the current system might get more people to come back to court in a timely manner or to plea out with time served, I’m sure there are a great many cases that could allow for a personal recognizance bond which is a win for all concerned (except maybe bondsmen and defense lawyers).

  3. Paul kubosh says:

    The people stuck in jail are not one time offenders who can’t get out because they can’t afford it. They are rrepeat offenders. No judge republican or democrat is going to hand out a pr bond on a guy caught with drugs. Its just like the elite to want to let all these drug users out so they can go back to the poor neighborhoods and steal to support their habit. I call taking such a position a racist position. Vast majority oftthese people live in minority neighborhoods. If.they lived in your white neighborhoods I am sure you wouldn’t be so bleeding heart about it.

  4. Paul kubosh says:

    No one stops a judge from giving out pr bonds right now. They don’t need a commission to study it. With all do respect charles gave you ever asked one of your democrat candidates for the bench about his policy on pr bonds?

  5. Steven Houston says:

    Come on PK, we both know that there are plenty of first timers awaiting trial, at least this report suggests so: Harris County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, Harris County – Jail Population: October 2014 Report. November 11, 2014.

    And the premise of our system is partially based on the fact that someone accused is innocent unless proven guilty, their past not allowed into the mix until sentencing. But given that the jail is a dumping ground for the mentally ill and those who refuse to conform to societal rules (whether they committed an actual crime or not), look at it from the perspective of time multipliers and actual space; we currently give those convicted how much credit for each day served and by doing so, the worse of the lot are let out much sooner since we don’t have unlimited space.

    The problems with individual judges giving PR bonds is that all it will take is one “Willy Horton” (sp?) to ruin a career, something you have to expect will happen if you release a large enough amount of people. Otherwise, we could build prisons and jails until the tea party enthusiasts scream about every nickle they have to contribute (which is pretty much the FIRST nickle of their taxes) and house them all but I don’t think most people support that approach. Others would argue that it is statistically proven that someone waiting trial in jail will get a harsher sentence than someone outside fighting a case but I haven’t enough expertise in the field to say that’s because the way the numbers are calculated.

    But it’s not just about party politics, of which I lean to the right myself. Catch someone red handed stealing for their habit, nail them hard with a day for day sentence but for some personality enhancer drug or to feed their habit? I’d rather get them in a treatment program since it’s cheaper in the long run.

  6. Paul kubosh says:

    Wrong on first timers. We pulled the records and did.the analysis some time ago. You can ask the district clerk for.all of our open records requests. My brother randy did the analysis.

  7. Paul kubosh says:

    We probably both agree that anything.that takes the authority away from.judges to.give pr bonds will be unconstitutional

  8. Steven Houston says:

    PK, wouldn’t it be easier for you to provide a summary of your findings? While it’s fine that you let Randy do the analysis (your own professed limitations with stats discussed way back), there are still ample first timers even if that is your big criteria for PR bonds. Have you ever heard the saying: “He paid his debt to society”? Basing a PR bond largely on whether someone accused of a crime is worthy only if they have never been in trouble before seems a bit harsh, certainly not encouraging to those who are apparently “marked for life” if they were in trouble years prior.

    I had the impression that the idea behind establishing the committee is as much to make it more likely someone under reasonable circumstances gets a PR bond given how unpopular they seem to be in some places like Harris County. Even if it is just the Texas Supremes being supportive of the idea, it gives local judges the ability to point the finger when that inevitable “he committed a crime while waiting trial” media rampage begins. We don’t have the prison beds to comply with existing law now and the costs to build more facilities are prohibitive, why doesn’t freeing up space for the worst offenders seem reasonable to you? I know you have a vested family interest in bonds and there’s nothing wrong with that but just as change is inevitable on drug laws, it is going to happen in other areas as well.

  9. Paul kubosh says:

    To much here to cover in a blog. We will be there when legislation is proposed. Also any bail reform will have no.effect on our business because the people y’all feel the need to release on their on pr will never be the people who posts bonds.

  10. […] Bail reform. There are too many people sitting in jail awaiting trial. Some of them belong there, but some of […]

  11. Steven Houston says:

    PK, as the jail continues to reach capacity enough to be forced to ship those accused all over, to pragmatists like me the issue becomes one of practical necessity. Many on the left foresee the inevitable decriminalization/legalization of certain drugs or the statistically larger impact on the poor while many on the right simply don’t want to pay to warehouse people. If letting some poor bloke out on a PR bond because he was caught with a couple joints frees up a single spot for the guy caught breaking into cars in our respective neighborhoods, I suspect many will agree with prioritizing limited space.

  12. Paul kubosh says:

    Then you and I will agree to disagree on what people are willing to accept.

  13. Steven Houston says:

    PK, I’ll believe otherwise when I see the tea party and right wing types support bonds for more jails as well as paying the resulting costs to keep people locked up. When every local inmate does day for day of their sentence and there is room to spare, then the evidence for your argument will be more compelling. If you rely solely on what juries sentence people for and how long, the fairly small subset of the population is not going to show the reality.

    Regardless, as gentlemen we can agree to disagree and leave it at that. 🙂

  14. Manuel Barrera says:

    PK nothing like hurting the pocket to bring out fantasy world with all the believe me statistics to back it up. If you, PK, have the data put it up so it can be evaluated by others besides Randy.