Last year, just 5.2 percent of slightly more than 94,000 people arrested by Harris County police agencies got out of jail on no-cost personal recognizance bonds, according to a report by the Harris County Pretrial Services office.
In July, 65 percent of the county's 9,133 inmates were pretrial detainees rather than convicted criminals serving sentences, according to the Office of Criminal Justice Coordination.
Anything about those numbers strike you as wrong?
In this country we are supposed to be presumed innocent unless the state can prove otherwise. In this country, and in this state, bail is not to be used in a punitive manner. The purpose of bail is to ensure that defendants show up on their scheduled court dates.
Whenever 2/3 of the folks sitting in your jail haven't been convicted of anything, you've got a problem. A very serious problem. And, should Murray Newman's BFF, Mike Anderson, take over the 6th floor at 1201 Franklin, the problem will only get worse.
There is no reason that any first-time offender charged with a non-violent offense, such as driving while intoxicated, possession of marijuana or theft should be held pending someone posting bond. They should be released on personal bonds.
You want to know why Harris County ships prisoners to other jails in Texas and Louisiana? Just take a second look at those numbers. And, if Mike Anderson does what he says he's going to do (always a tough bet when dealing with a politician), someone is going to be asking the voters of Harris County to cough up a bunch of dough to build (yet) another jail.
Oh, but we have direct filing in Harris County, apologists will say. We have a bond schedule. Folks can get bonded out at any time relatively quickly. But those who can't get caught up in the Harris County squeeze. They will sit in jail until their first court appearance. The prosecutor will make an offer that will get them out fairly soon. The court-appointed attorney is only too eager to please his masters and encourages his "clients" to plead before he investigates the case.
The result? Young people walking around with criminal records that will follow them for the rest of their lives.
"I do think some of it is attributable to Harris County's process of direct filing, which means a lot of people can bond out before a magistrate can see them. If they don't bond out, they go to court within 24 to 72 hours, and they can plead out. So they no longer need a bond if their case is disposed of." -- Carol Oeller, Director of Harris County Pretrial ServicesAnd I bet she even said it with a straight face. That's right. We don't need to discuss these personal bonds because if someone can't afford to post bail they can plead out on the chain in misdemeanor court. We're not in the business of justice at the Criminal (In)justice Center, we're in the business of making sausage.
Judges are opposed to personal bonds. State District Judge Michael McSpadden doesn't like them because he's worried defendants might find something better to do that go to court. Well, at least that's what he says in public. And I'm not just singling out Judge McSpadden (he just happened to be the one quoted in the article). The real reason the judges don't want personal bonds is because it will reduce the volume of quick pleas in their courts.
We all know that it's easier to fight a case when your client isn't behind bars. It also takes away some of the state's leverage when trying to coerce pleas. The robed ones know that if more personal bonds were granted, there would be fewer mass pleas every morning and more cases being carried on their docket.
And then there's the bonding companies.
Michael Kubosh, of Kubosh Bail Bonding, said PR bonds are a threat to public safety because those who don't appear in court are not tracked down.
"A pretrial release bond has a high recidivism (rate), because anytime you get something for nothing that's how you treat it. It doesn't seem important to you," Kubosh said.
Of course Mr. Kubosh doesn't want to see a rash of personal bonds. They aren't good for his business. The bonding companies are the big beneficiaries of the way we do things in Harris County. A dearth of personal bonds means families have less leverage with bonding companies when trying to get their loved ones out of the county jail.
I would like to stand on my soapbox and tell you that the system is broken and needs to be repaired. But that wouldn't be the truth. You see, the system is working just as it was designed to. That's the real tragedy.