Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harris County trails only LA and NYC for largest daily jail population

A quarter of the Harris County budget goes to fund law enforcement, with over $750,000 spent every day on inmates at the Harris County Jail, according to a report in Forbes. Harris County has the third largest daily jail population - trailing only Los Angeles County and New York City.

Over a three-year stretch the number of inmates increased more than 21%.
"Many people are in jail because they are too poor to post bail. If you have a first-class pretrial program, a county is often in a better position because they can carefully analyze the individual, can figure out better what needs to be done." -- Donald Murray, senior legislative director, National Association of Counties
According to John Dyess, chief administrative officer for the Harris County Sheriff's Office, the county spends some $200 million a year for detention, money that could be spent in more productive ways.
"This really wasn't built for this. I don't know if we can build our way out of where we are today." - John Dyess
The Justice Policy Institute estimates that almost two-thirds of the nation's jail population are awaiting trial. And why are they waiting behind bars? Because almost four out of every five inmates made less than $2,000 a month prior to being arrested.

Between 1986 and 2005, the number of arrests for violent crimes increased 25% but the number of arrests for possession of illegal drugs increased 150%.

The numbers are appalling. The wholesale eviseration of the Eigth Amendement's prohibition against unreasonable bail is unconscionable. The only purpose of bail is to insure the accused's appearance in court. It is not meant to be a tool of punishment. We often forget that these men and women held in jail awaiting trial haven't been convicted of anything. They are innocent unless the state proves them guilty beyond all reasonable doubt.


Shazza said...

I job-shadowed a PD last April and was able to watch an individual's arraignment and was appalled at the ferocity of the bail amount. Wasn't about 8th Amendment at all, it boiled down to a DA scoring brownie points. Truthfully it angered me.

Houston DWI Attorney Paul B. Kennedy, said...

Thank you for your comment.

In both Harris and Galveston Counties, the courts use a bond schedule to set bond. While using a bond schedule as a guideline is good practice, blind adherence to a bond schedule is inherently unjust.

While the bond schedule takes into account the severity of an alleged offense and the accused's criminal history -- it doesn't take into account the accused's ability to raise funds.