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More focus on bail practices

Something needs to be done, whether via the ongoing lawsuit or other means.

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Sandra Thompson, a University of Houston law professor, has spent hundreds of dollars bailing her cousin out of jail for minor offenses.

“I get steamed under the collar when I think about this issue,” Thompson said. “I’m really mad and I’m ready to see some change. ”

Thompson and several other community members gathered Saturday afternoon at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University to discuss bail reform issues in Harris County and suggest potential solutions. The Earl Carl Institute for Legal and Social Policy Inc., a city organization that seeks justice for minorities, hosted the event. Community leaders expressed concern about poor individuals jailed for nonviolent crimes because they can’t afford to make bail.

“You have a system that gets it wrong all across the spectrum,” Thompson said. “You got low-risk people stuck in jail because they’re poor. You got high-risk people getting out because they’re rich.”

[…]

Community leaders at the meeting on Saturday said the ongoing lawsuit would be one solution regarding the bail reform issue, but also urged local court officials to assess the risk of the individual when setting bail. In Harris County, the average bail is between $500 and $5,000 for misdemeanors.

“If someone is taken to jail on a minor, nonviolent offense like trespassing or theft, bail shouldn’t be determined by a schedule that doesn’t consider risk or ability to pay,” said Mary Moreno, a representative from Texas Organizing Project, a nonprofit advocacy group for low-income people in Houston.

Moreno announced the group’s new campaign Saturday to decriminalize poverty in Houston. The group seeks to reform the criminal justice system in Harris County and one of its initiatives concerns bail reform.

“For those living paycheck to paycheck, two or three days of being in jail means losing hours at work and can start a domino effect of unfortunate events that can cause serious financial hardships taking months or years to recover from,” she said.

Moreno also stressed the importance of not jailing people for being unable to pay traffic tickets. She said other options could be community service, payment plans, and the deduction of fines.

See here and here for more on the lawsuit, for which we should get a ruling on who should be defendants this week. This lawsuit may force some changes, but ultimately it’s going to come down to the judges and the DA, with some responsibility for the Lege as well. In the meantime, go back to what Professor Thompson said about risk, and reflect on the fact that Robert Durst was granted bail after being arrested for the murder and dismemberment of Morris Black. Surely people arrested for misdemeanors represent no bigger threat to anyone’s safety than he did.

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4 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    “You got low-risk people stuck in jail because they’re poor. You got high-risk people getting out because they’re rich.”

    Sandra Thompson, a University of Houston law professor

    I really, really, hope that Sandra isn’t conducting her law classes in Ebonics, too.

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    “Moreno also stressed the importance of not jailing people for being unable to pay traffic tickets. She said other options could be community service, payment plans, and the deduction of fines. ”

    This I agree with. Let people convicted of traffic offenses work off those fines picking up litter, mowing easements, or other jobs, commensurate with their ability. Work off the fine amount at minimum wage for trash pick up, and a higher hourly figure for those with skill sets capable of doing more valuable work. Of course, if you give offenders the option to either pay or work off a fine and they do neither, then there really is no recourse but to jail them.

  3. Jason says:

    I find it comical when Dems elect judges they think will actually enact policies that help poor offenders. Don’t take my word for it but there are several on the bench who keep sending drug addicts (not dealers) to prison. There really needs to be a radical shift in crime and punishment in our country.

  4. C.L. says:

    Here’s a couple suggestions for Sandra Johnson… Explain to your cousin what exactly is legal and what is illegal in Texas, or two – stop bailing your cousin out of jail. Sooner or later the behavior will change.. by one of y’all.