Whether the charge is robbery, shoplifting or drug use, most people arrested in Harris County stay in jail because they can't afford to post bail.
That's largely because this conservative county and its judges have been reluctant to grant no-cost personal bonds that are increasingly popular in other large metropolitan areas in Texas, say attorneys, judges and those in the bail bond industry.
"There's no good reason for it,'' said Mark Hochglaube, the trial division chief of the Harris County Public Defenders Office. "I can't speak for what they do in other counties, but I can tell you the general sense of the culture here is one that is opposed to pretrial release. I wish it weren't, but it's as basic as that."
Last year, just 5.2 percent of slightly more than 94,000 people arrested by Harris County police agencies got out of jail on no-cost personal recognizance bonds, according to a report by the Harris County Pretrial Services office. In July, 65 percent of the county's 9,133 inmates were pretrial detainees rather than convicted criminals serving sentences, according to the Office of Criminal Justice Coordination.
"That's disgustingly high," said Chris Tritico, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association. "A lot of those people could be out working, supporting their families and awaiting their day in court. Just because you can't afford a lawyer and a bond, that doesn't make you guilty."
The best comment from that article follows.
We must have people committing crimes and being in jail. If we cut back on any of it, we would have thousands of lawyers, prosecutors, judges, bail bondsmen, police, jailers, prison guards, prison and jail management people, probation workers, parole supervisors and jail and prison suppliers out of work...the economy would be devastated. The Criminal Justice System is big business and fast growing.
More from the article.
(B)ond practices in Harris County force some innocent defendants to plead guilty because they'd rather accept a plea deal and a short sentence than spend months in jail waiting for a trial. In a few cases, he said, defendants have been held awaiting trial longer than the maximum sentence they could have received.
"It's not just a failure of the judges, the district attorney - it's everybody. It's a failure of the defense bar. Even good attorneys don't ask for a personal bond. Everyone is indoctrinated with the idea that if you are charged with a felony you're not going to get a PR bond," said Hochglaube.
That would even be true in the case of people charged with felonies who were framed by undercover police officers. Yes, some of those port protestors are still in county lockup, and have been since December.
Keep in mind that all of this results in overcrowded jails, which sends the Harris County Sheriff to Commissioners Court to request construction of additional detention facilities. Usually the voters are disinclined to approve bond issues for jail construction, as former city councilwoman Melissa Noriega noted here, so the problem persists. But when the bonds do get approved and the construction bids awarded, the pals of the commissioners with construction companies get real happy.
So it's a win for everybody involved in the criminal justice "industry"... except for, you know, justice.
Let's not overlook the fact that this is only the beginning. After the bonding (or not) and the trial come the convictions and the sentencing. The private prison system we have in Texas depends on corporations that have quarterly profit projections -- and stockholder demands -- to meet. This requires a steadily increasing flow of new "customers".
And the corporations running our prisons -- just like the bail bondsmen named Kubosh in the article -- must, in turn, keep contributing to the Republicans running for judgeships and sheriff and district attorney on a "tuff on crime" agenda to keep sending them those customers... by conning a gullible, poorly-informed, slow-witted base into voting for them. Over and over again.
There's a way to break this cycle. It starts by not voting for any Republicans.
I have already identified a few judges and a sheriff candidate whom you should vote for. I will present more qualified names in the coming days and weeks. And there will be plenty of Libertarians on your ballot if you simply can't bring yourself to vote for a Democrat.
Kuff and Grits have been on this case a lot longer than I have.