Let judges handle bail, and keep Texas safer

Let judges handle bail, and keep Texas safer

(excerpt from TribTalk - Texas and authored by Former U.S. Representative Ted Poe, Mar 12 2019)

In order for any criminal justice system to work properly, justice must mean something to the offender, to the victim and to the community. Justice cannot exist without accountability.

That’s the role of the judges we elect and the courts where they preside — to ensure those who break our laws are held accountable for their actions. But recently announced legislative proposals to reform the bail system in Texas turn that concept on its ear.

These proposed statewide reforms mirror those implemented in Harris County, including deploying an algorithm-based risk assessment tool to determine whether or not a defendant should be released on personal recognizance rather than on cash or surety bail. Under the guise of fairness, these computer programs take decisions about pretrial release out of judges’ hands, instead plugging a variety of information into a machine and spitting out a recommendation.

These measures were introduced in Harris County as a way to keep the poor from languishing in jail as they await trial, but in the time since they’ve been implemented, they’ve become a blanket get-out-of-jail-free card. Harris County is now releasing 85 percent of misdemeanor defendants on personal bonds, and there are proposals to expand these policies to felony defendants as well.

That means criminal defendants arrested for murder, aggravated sexual assault of a child, methamphetamine production and distribution and human trafficking, among other crimes, will simply be able to sign their names and walk out of jail with nothing more than a pinky promise that they’ll reappear for their court dates. It will shock no one to hear that since Harris County instituted these policies for misdemeanor cases, almost 40 percent of defendants released on unsecured bonds failed to appear for their scheduled court date, compared to 10 percent of defendants released on commercial bail.

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