The centerpiece of the current preventive release system (bail, as it is better known), is money rather than public safety. The system, which is possibly unconstitutional, takes advantage of the most vulnerable among us, including those with proven mental health problems and intellectual or physical disabilities.
Unfortunately, the current bills that are making their way during the legislature right now will not improve public safety and will only make the judicial system even more a two-tier system: one for those who have money; and one for those who don’t.
While we desperately need bail reform (more than 53% of the county’s prison population in Texas is made up of people awaiting trial), this legislation is not.
HB 12 and SB 6 in their current form will not make Texas safer. They can even undermine our shared public safety goals. Among the main provisions of the bills are the requirements for more people to pay monetary bail and new government restrictions on charitable bailout organizations.
As presented, the proposed legislation worsens the system by requiring more people to pay in cash for its publication. Unfortunately, most people would not have the funds to pay for their freedom, leaving them locked up. On the other hand, the few who could afford to pay to play would be released regardless of the danger they face.
These provisions would affect anyone who could not find stable employment, regardless of the reason, and would include people with intellectual or physical disabilities. Prisons in our counties are already overflowing with people pending trial, and this group of people (those who have not been convicted of any crime) accounts for 80% of COVID-related deaths in our prisons. We need to look for solutions instead of making them worse.
The legislation would also disproportionately affect jeans struggling with mental health during a period when many of us experience increased anxiety, depression, or isolation, and more than 75% of us have close friends or family with behavioral health needs. The Texas Judicial Mental Health Commission found that “adults with untreated mental health conditions are eight times more likely to be imprisoned than the general population,” according to a study published in 2016. The same report stated that approximately one 20-24% of Texas ’inmate population has a mental health need. As a former Tarrant County District Attorney, this doesn’t surprise me; my prison includes a significant number of people who have mental illness issues.
My situation is not unique; statewide, approximately 30% of county inmates receive some form of mental health service. Unfortunately, the waiting list for transfer to a state mental health hospital is currently more than 1,450 deep, meaning a wait of 18 months or more, leaving too many jeans in prisons, while incurring an incalculable cost to us. of millions and productivity losses.
Worse, doing all of this doesn’t keep us any safer. Studies have shown that keeping low-level offenders in prison for more than forty-eight hours correlates with a 40% increase in re-arrest rates, but when efforts have been made to reduce the use of bail in effective, as in Harris County, there has been no short-term increase in crime.
Such legislation would also be costly: prisons are one of the most expensive items in a county budget. By extending jail time for what should be addressed as public health issues, these measures would lead to increased budgets at the expense of taxpayer dollars without providing any real solution to the problem.
Lilly was an assistant district attorney for the Fort Worth Criminal District Attorney’s Office and a special deputy attorney for the United States. He is a spokesman for the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, a nonprofit group of police, prosecutors, judges, correctional officers and other law enforcement who want to transform the police by advocating for drug and criminal justice reforms to make the safer and fairer communities.