Federal judge said people accused of minor crimes could not be jailed only because they couldn’t afford to post bail. A new risk assessment system is being put into effect this month.
Harris County, Texas, officials have delayed for two weeks major changes in their system for setting bail for people awaiting trial, more than 83,000 people every year, reports the Houston Chronicle. The county had told a federal judge handling a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of the money-bail system that it would roll out significant changes by July 1. The county’s director of pretrial services, Kelvin Banks, said more time was necessary for such a large jurisdiction as Harris County. He said changes would be made by the end of July. This week, the agency is starting to use a streamlined interview process that should reduce the average time to get information from new defendants from 20 minutes to 10 or 15 minutes.
Interviewers will ask people accused of crimes whether they have the ability to put cash down for bail to get released pending trial. Those too poor to afford the lowest bail amount, $500 can sign a sworn statement. The judge ruled that it is unconstitutional to hold poor people accused of minor, nonviolent crimes in jail awaiting trial only because they cannot afford to post bail. Next week, the agency will retrain all employees on a new risk assessment tool that will help guide recommendations about whether to allow people out on bail and, if so, how high the bail should be set. It was designed in partnership with the Houston-based Laura and John Arnold Foundation and partly funded by the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation. “This is the most comprehensive monitoring and supervision plan that has ever existed in Harris County, and one of the foremost plans in the country,” Banks said.