The entire nation has eyes on reforms to bail systems that have been implemented in recent years. Some have taken place in New Jersey, and others are hitting a little closer to home.
The basic problem with traditional cash bail systems, as many people in support of the reforms claim, is that people with little to no available cash to secure their release languish in jail until their trials. Others, often arraigned for severe, even violent or repeat, offenses, sometimes have large amounts of petty cash at their disposal, and can walk free within hours of their bail amounts being determined.
The reforms are intended to prevent defendants without large financial assets from sitting in jail for weeks or months, and streamline the trial process to benefit the strain on taxpayer dollars.
In Harris County, a reformed bail system went into effect earlier in the year, but it is raising many concerns within the police community and ordinary citizens.
This new Harris County system provides a new option for defendants charged with a variety of misdemeanor charges. The defendant no longer has to provide a large amount of cash to the court, or hire a bail bondsman, to secure their release before their trial date. Instead, they file an affidavit which lists their financial resources, assets, and is supposed to allow the court to determine whether they can legitimately afford their bail. If it is determined that the defendant cannot afford their bail, and remaining in jail until their trial would adversely harm their family or other life situations, then the defendant can be released without posting bail.
The basis for this new system is that the bail process is not supposed to detain and hold people because they are not wealthy; it is only supposed to ensure that they appear at their trial date. Under the previous system, defendants could essentially be warehoused until their misdemeanor trial because they could not afford to pay their bail, and this is now being viewed by many as a breach of one of the tenets of the American judicial system – “innocent until proven guilty”. The old system seems to unwittingly imply that you can be treated as guilty for the unintentional crime of not having a lot of petty cash.
The problem seems to be in the implementation of this new system. The police officers tasked with vetting the authenticity of the defendants’ financial statements on these affidavits of unsecured bonds are unable to complete their investigations, because of a second aspect of this system. The defendant must either produce bail money or be released less than 24 hours after their arrest. Not their arraignment, but their arrest. The officers, in some cases, are not provided with the financial statements to follow up on until 12 to 18 hours after the defendant’s arrest, and this shrinks the time frame for their vetting process drastically.
One of the examples provided as proof that this system is failing is that the failure to appear rate under the previous, traditional cash bail system steadily hovered at around 9%, for years. In this year alone, the failure to appear rate on these new unsecured bond releases has skyrocketed to 30%. Obviously, something has gone wrong, and this system is not working. People who were arrested and subsequently released are skating by, because they can, in theory, lie on these affidavits, and the police do not have the time to ferret out the truth before the defendant has been released, by law, because they said they didn’t have the money to pay their bail.
What do you think?
Is this system good in theory, but needs some help in practice?
Do we need to return to the previous bail system?
Let us know what you think in the comments!