Criminal Justice

Harris County officials set 10% bail bond minimum to limit people released from custody

Local leaders have blamed the bail bond industry for setting rates too low, allowing people accused of violent offenses to easily get out of jail and reoffend.

Located near Minute Maid Park, "A-Way-Out! Bail Bonds" is one of many locations of its kind in downtown Houston. Taken on October 17, 2019.
Located near Minute Maid Park, “A-Way-Out! Bail Bonds” is one of many locations of its kind in downtown Houston. Taken on Oct. 17, 2019.

The Harris County Bail Bond Board approved a proposal late Wednesday requiring bonding companies to collect a minimum of 10% of bail set by judges before people are released on bond.

The new rule is intended to prevent people accused of violent offenses from being released on low bond amounts and reoffending. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who is on the board, has advocated for such a requirement.

“The truth is that too many people who should be behind bars are out reoffending because they’ve been allowed to pay one or 2% bond as opposed to the traditional 10%,” Hidalgo said during Wednesday’s meeting.

The measure failed to pass at last month’s meeting.

The bail bond industry has been blamed for accepting lower bond payments — some as low as 2% — which critics say have led to a rise in violent crime.

So-called "bail reform" in Harris County has also been blamed for a rise in crime, though there's no evidence that's actually the case: reforms in the county have only addressed the most low-level offenses. But it's also not clear if the bail bond industry is to blame, and bond companies have accused critics of scapegoating. They’ve also accused the board of trying to usurp power of state lawmakers by setting rules they have no power to enforce.

“If you want to set what we can charge, that should be done at the Texas Legislature, not here,” said Ken Good, an attorney for some bond companies, at last month’s meeting.

Houston City Council was set to weigh a similar measure earlier in the day Wednesday, but tabled that vote as they awaited the county bail bond board’s decision.

In a statement, Mayor Sylvester Turner applauded the decision.

“When judges set high bonds for violent offenses, bail bond companies should not waive or reduce premiums, thus jeopardizing public safety,” Turner said. “I’m grateful to the advocates, victim families especially, who pushed for this reform, including many elected officials.”

Additional reporting by Jen Rice