Houston Matters

New Protocol On Bail System Would Increase Workload Of Pretrial Services In Harris County

About 85 percent of those arrested on misdemeanors would be released on cash free bonds.

Changes proposed this week for Harris County’s bail system would entail that the pretrial services division would have a much bigger workload.

As Houston Chronicle reporter Gabrielle Banks has reported, Democratic judges elected in November have approved comprehensive revisions to the bail system and plan to present the new protocol to federal judge Lee Rosenthal to ask her that she authorizes its implementation as a foundation for a settlement regarding a lawsuit filed in 2016.

Banks told Houston Matters Friday that the new guidelines practically mean that “about 85 percent of people arrested on misdemeanors are gonna be automatically released on a cash free bond.”

Exceptions

There would be exceptions for people arrested for domestic violence, as well as for those arrested for repeat drunken driving and bond violations. Those defendants would have to appear before a magistrate or judge within 48 hours, but they might also qualify for personal recognizance bonds.

Banks noted there were approximately 2,000 people under supervision of the pretrial services division in 2015 and that the new protocol would mean that number could jump to about 46,000 people.

She said pretrial services director Kelvin Banks anticipates that in the next six months or so they will advance the technology the division uses to keep track of court appearances. Additionally, Banks is considering asking the Harris County Commissioners Court to authorize hiring 23 new employees to work on supervisions.

The Chronicle reporter also thinks the protocol devised by the new judges could mean that things “start moving pretty quickly” regarding the outcome of the lawsuit. “I think that Judge Rosenthal will be very pleased to see that everybody’s put their heads together,” Banks commented, “and come up with the first step of a process of a settlement.”

Elizabeth Rossi, an attorney with Civil Rights Corp —one of the groups that filed the 2016 lawsuit— told Houston Matters’ Maggie Martin the next step in the process is “making sure that there are processes and supports in the system to make sure that the local rule is enduring.”

Hidalgo and Ellis react

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said in a statement the new guidelines push the county’s judicial system to become “fairer, safer, and more cost effective.” “This work will require coordination between multiple agencies and I am working with key stakeholders to make sure we do it right,” Hidalgo added.

Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis, who represents Precinct 1 and is a prominent proponent of bail reform, also praised the new protocol in a statement saying it is “a first step toward leveling a two-tiered justice system, where access to justice, liberty and due process has been based on how much money a person has in their pocket instead of their guaranteed constitutional rights.”

Ellis also told Houston Matters Harris County must keep working on the development of pretrial services and diversion programs, among other things.

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