Harris County Democratic Commissioners are Leading The Way on Bail Reform

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Harris County Democratic Commissioners Set to Approve Landmark Bail Reform Agreement

The Democratic-led Harris County Commissioners Court is poised to enact a comprehensive bail reform plan that will likely become a model for cities and counties across the nation. New County Judge Lina Hidalgo and new Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia will join long-time criminal justice reform advocate, Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis in adopting the new bail plan.  

The agreement puts in place a dramatic restructuring of the bail system to allow fair treatment of citizens based on the facts of their case rather than their income and ability to find the money to post a bond. Adoption of the new bail process ends a long and expensive legal battle that had been exacerbated by the previous Republican-controlled Commissioners Court. 

For decades, the Republican-led Court supported and defended an unfair and inefficient bail system that a federal judge ruled unconstitutional. The broken system forced citizens charged with misdemeanor offenses but without access to sufficient funds to post a bond, into a punitive trap where justice and due process was based on income rather than the facts of their case.  Essentially, the broken system punished people for being poor while wasting millions of tax dollars on legal fees processing misdemeanor cases rather than addressing more serious crimes.

The new bail reform agreement is expected to be approved at the next meeting of Commissioners Court.  

However, one question remains… 

Will Republican Commissioners Steve Radack and Jack Cagle drop their defense of the old broken, unfair and inefficient bail system and support the new bail reform plan?

The answer appears to be No. 

According to the Houston Chronicle:

Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack, however, panned the settlement proposal. He said the previous Republican-led Commissioners Court had been prepared to settle the case on narrower terms. He said the Democrats who swept all the judicial and countywide posts in the 2018 election pitched unnecessarily expensive reforms.

“They decided to take advantage of a political situation at the expense of the taxpayer,” Radack said.

Fellow Republican Jack Cagle, who represents Precinct 4, said the deal includes unneeded “bells and whistles” and fails to consider the needs of crime victims.

Cagle and Radack’s arguments of “fiscal irresponsibility” don’t hold up to facts. When the city of New Orleans eliminated the use of money bail for people arrested for municipal offenses, it was projected to save the city $5.5 million in taxpayer money – dollars that instead could be reinvested back into the community.

Radack and Cagle’s arguments are out of step with even the most conservative federal courts

The 5th Circuit District Court of Appeals – widely considered the most conservative federal appeals court in the nation – largely upheld the ruling by Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal who struck down the broken system as unconstitutional. A petition to review the ruling filed with the U.S. Supreme Court was denied by  Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Don’t buy the dishonest argument that Bail Reform will hurt small businesses

Paid promoters of the for-profit bail industry claim that bail reform will somehow hurt small businesses. The facts say otherwise. Most bail companies rely on “surety” bonds, which are increasingly backed by large global insurers. Any meaningful threat to true small business simply doesn’t exist.

According to The Atlantic:

Overall, the industry is a profitable and fairly concentrated one. Though there are more than 25,000 bail-bonds companies across the U.S., only about 10 insurers are responsible for underwriting the bulk of the $14 billion in bonds that are issued each year. The industry as a whole brings in around $2 billion in profit a year. Surprisingly, it’s not even clear which companies are actually involved. The report finds that private-equity firms play a role, but their holdings are often murky because global insurers build in several layers of opaque corporate structures between their corporate brand, bond-insurance operations, and bail-bonds storefronts.

Surety bonds are underwritten by massive corporate conglomerates that are supported by big corporate interests. In fact, it’s a system that can encourage bail bondsmen, the equivalent of modern day bounty hunters, which has led to deadly consequences.

When approved, the agreement launches a new smart-on-crime era

The plan to be adopted by the Democratic-controlled Commissioners Court replaces an unconstitutional two-tiered system of misdemeanor criminal injustice. No longer will access to due process depend on a defendant’s bank account. It establishes a new system of misdemeanor criminal justice in Harris County that is fair, efficient and just. 

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