Is Harris County bail reform finally coming?

Three years after a landmark lawsuit challenging Harris County's bail practices, KPRC has learned that a settlement has been reached.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas – There's been an ongoing battle to reform the Harris County bail system.

Since 2016, several lawsuits have been filed alleging that the county is holding people unfairly for misdemeanor crimes because they can't afford to pay their bail. Precinct 1 County Commissioner Rodney Ellis said that change may be on the horizon.

"We went into federal court this morning and told Judge (Lee H.) Rosenthall that we think we have an agreement," Ellis said.

Ellis said the proposed agreement would do away with a wealth-based bail system for misdemeanors.

"There will be a risk assessment and if the determination is made that someone is a danger to themselves or society, the judge would keep them in, but they will not look at your income -- how much money one has in their pocket -- to determine whether or not you are released on bail," he said.

Along with more criteria, Ellis said that the county will hire new staff to work with defendants as part of the settlement.

"There will be staffing needs. There will be a cost associated with this reform, but in the long run, it will be far less money than we spend incarcerating people," Ellis said.

Ellis said the county officials are still running the numbers to determine how much the new system would cost. He said he believes that the resolution would fix what he calls an unsafe and unfair system.

"It is a major civil rights victory that will have national implications,” he said.

The agreement will likely be voted on Tuesday in County Commissioners Court.

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