The debate about justice reform centers around whether or not someone who is poor should be required to pay a surety bond to get out of jail free while awaiting trial. The argument is that the person’s ability to post a bond should not depend on their ability to afford a bail bond. The so-called solution to preventing people from languishing in a jail awaiting trial just because they are poor, has been to use a pretrial risk assessment tool to determine if the person can be trusted to return for their court date if they are let out of jail on a PR (personal recognizance) bond.
This all sounds fine until you realize that the defendant has no incentive to show up for their court date. In the real world, when someone is arrested, it’s their grandma, mother, father, brother, sister, girlfriend, boyfriend, friend, etc, etc who posts the bond to get them out of jail. That’s called a “co-signer”. So the defendant is obligated to show up for their court date, because if they don’t, their co-signer is responsible for the entire bond amount. A defendant may not feel obligated to the justice system, but when Grandma posts your bond, those family ties insure that it’s a little more likely that you’ll make that court date.
A PR Bond is a Get Out of Jail Free Card
Take the recent arrest in Austin, TX of a man who was released from Huntsville Prison on June 17th, 2018 and four days later went on a violent crime spree. Edward Earl Johnson, Jr. was arrested, charged for Aggravated Robbery, and RELEASED on a personal recognizance bond after assaulting two men who had harmlessly stopped for parts at an Auto Zone on June 23rd. After Johnson got his ‘get out of jail free card”, it was discovered that he also participated in kidnapping a UPS driver on June 21st. Luckily, the UPS driver still has his life after surviving this terrifying experience, but Mr. Johnson, who has a rap sheet spanning 13 years, is out of jail, even after demonstrating he’s a violent criminal just days after being released from prison.
Texas Alliance for Safe Communities is working to shine a light on our broken justice system. Too many criminals are being returned to our communities to commit more crimes simply because of an over-correction by the courts to protect poor defendants or reduce jail overcrowding. In Houston, where the courts have forced Harris County judges to release more people on PR bonds within 24 hours of arrest, nearly half of the criminals released on these unsecured bonds do not show up for their court date. Houston City Councilman, Michael Kubosh shared his concerns “We can either identify solutions to improve upon a trusted bail system that has worked for generations, or we can empower criminals to game the justice system”.
The Texas Legislature needs to act to protect our families, not criminals. The bail bond industry needs to be allowed to do its job to create an incentive for a criminal defendant to show up to court. The bail bond system works. PR bonds don’t. No more get out of jail free cards!