Risk-based Bail Bill is in the House!

Ask your lawmaker to support SB 1338!

Too often in Texas, low-income defendants are held in pretrial detention because they don’t have the funds for a bond. Our jails house legally innocent people who have not been convicted of a crime, and the cost to them and to taxpayers is exorbitant. In Harris County, where pretrial is a common practice, 70% of the jail population are simply waiting for their hearings. Bexar and Tarrant county jails report 57% and Dallas County hails a rate of 74%. There’s no silver lining to holding this many low-level defendants who are simply there because they can’t afford bond.

Bail isn’t meant to be a fine or punishment for a crime, but for those who can’t make bond, it’s exactly that. Months can pass before a case goes to trial, and that amounts to weeks on end among dangerous offenders in high-security facilities. Texas Fair Defense Project reports that low-risk offenders are unlikely to commit another crime, but detaining them in pretrial greatly increases the likelihood that they will be arrested again in the future. Exposure to career criminals and to jail in general is a proven recipe for recidivism and higher-level crime.

Bi-partisan coalition for reform

The following organizations support this proposal: Texas Public Policy Foundation, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Texans for Accountable Government (TAG), Texas Appleseed, ACLU of Texas, Austin Justice Coalition, and Just Liberty.

Act now! Tell your lawmaker to push for a risk-based bail tool to increase public safety

Compared to those who get out on bond, defendants who are held in pretrial are

  • less likely to get deferred adjudication or probation
  • about half as likely to have their charges dismissed
  • likely to face tougher sentences if convicted
  • likely to take plea deals that go on their permanent records, despite their innocence

The risk-based tool puts Texas on track for more meaningful bail reform

Federal District Judge Lee Rosenthal decried policies in Harris County which relied on a “bail schedule” instead of having judges set bail based on the individualized circumstances of each defendant. But that system is used all over the state, not just in Houston!

Judge Rosenthal issued an injunction against the largest county in the state (Harris) because of bail policies that keep poor people incarcerated even when they pose no flight risk. Now, legislation which seemed bold before almost seems timid compared to the judge’s order forbidding money-based detentions for misdemeanors and declaring Harris County judges lack “credibility” as policymakers.

SB 1338 puts Texas in pursuit of a more robust risk-based bail system to keep poor Texans out of jail simply because they can’t pay their bond.

SB 1338 helps judges make better release decisions; increases discretion

SB 1338 will create a risk assessment tool judges can use and require that it be applied before the judge makes a decision, though judges can choose to ignore it. This will create an infrastructure statewide for judges to quickly apply risk assessment models which, if followed, would go a long way toward depopulating Texas jails of low-risk people while better identifying high-risk defendants who need to be detained for public safety’s sake.