Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Texas continues to use a cash bail system-penalizing poor people

Like most states, Texas uses a cash bail system that lets defendants pay to get released from jail while they wait for ​​adjudication. But the price of bail is often an insurmountable hurdle, reported the Texas Tribune.

Civil rights groups and inmates have unsuccessfully challenged Texas’ use of a cash bail system for years. Lawsuits targeting Dallas and Harris county jails alleged the practice was unconstitutional because it discriminates against poorer defendants. A federal appeals court ruled against the Dallas plaintiffs and the Supreme Court declined to take the case. 

In 2021, Texas lawmakers changed the state’s bail system, but didn’t forbid a cash bail system. Instead, they required all defendants accused of violent crimes to pay cash for release from jail before their trials. Critics said requiring cash to get out of jail would continue to penalize low-income people and benefit the bail bonds industry.

About three in every four Texans in county jails are awaiting the resolution of their cases, according to data from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the state agency that oversees local jails. That number has surpassed pre-pandemic levels and is 14% higher than in January 2017.

For women, the wait can be harder than for men. County jails, meant for short stays, commonly lack resources women need — like pregnancy care and mental health treatment. Women in county jails are also more likely to have mental health needs. And many are mothers separated from their children.

Angel Collier worked at Buc-ee’s, but in 2014 became a stay-at-home mom for several years before breaking up with her child’s father. At the time of her 2020 arrest, Collier was living with her father while she was a full-time student pursuing an online psychology degree from Houston Christian University.

Following her arrest, Collier’s combined bond for the two misdemeanor charges was set at $8,000. When she couldn’t afford that, a friend loaned her over $700 to pay a bonds company so she could get out of jail. But two years later, while still awaiting her trial, she missed a required court hearing because she was receiving emergency care for pregnancy complications. A warrant was issued for her arrest in Walker County.

In June 2022, officers from Madison County were sent to her home in Midway for a welfare check because someone reported she was having a miscarriage. When Collier came outside, she told police she was OK, but that she may go to the doctor the next day, according to video obtained by KFF Health News. Because of the Walker County warrants, police arrested her.

Collier said she could not afford to pay thousands of dollars to bail out. Stuck in Walker County jail again, she says she experienced a miscarriage and received little medical attention while she waited a day for another friend to loan her money to pay a bonds company for her release.

Collier later filed a formal complaint with The Texas Commission on Jail Standards about her miscarriage. In a September 2022 letter, the agency told Collier that Walker County Jail had not violated minimum jail standards. According to the commission, records from Walker County Jail show that Collier only submitted one medical request and did not advise jail staff of any other medical issues. Collier claims she asked for help multiple times.

“We haven’t yet gone far enough to meet the needs of women who are in jail at the county level,” said Alycia Welch, associate director of the Prison and Jail Innovation Lab at The University of Texas at Austin, a research center dedicated to incarceration in Texas.

Texas law requires the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to collect and report data on incarcerated women. But the Commission cannot provide the total number of women behind bars and waiting for their cases to be resolved in Texas county jails right now — or any time in the last two years.

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