Bail reform coming for Harris County's misdemeanor offenders

By Cory McCord - Digital News Editor

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas - A new bail system will be implemented in Harris County after the old system was found to be unconstitutional.

All individuals with misdemeanor cases in Harris County will be allowed to "return to their families, jobs, and communities without having to pay money for their freedom," according to county officials.

Officials said research shows that the vast majority of misdemeanor offenders are able to be released safely and quickly back into the community without posing as a safety threat to the community.

Some misdemeanor offenders may be detained for up to 48 hours to see a judge. Here are the reasons offenders can be detained:

  • They violated bond conditions in an open case.
  • They are charged with domestic violence.
  • They violated a protective order.
  • They are facing a second DWI offense.

Officials want the changes to take place fast.

"We want to settle within the first 30 days of the new judges taking office," said presiding Judge Darrell Jordan, who was the first judge to implement bail reform locally. "The cash bail system used by the prior judges had devastating effects on individuals and the community. Our plan will make Harris County a better place for everyone. The key here today, is this is a history making moment for civil rights. Not only in HC, but for the US ... what it comes down to in Harris County, no one will ever be in jail again simply because they don't have money. When it comes to the criminal justice system and your freedom, money should never determine your freedom."

The old system of cash bail in Harris County was found to be unconstitutional by United States District Judge Lee Rosenthal in April 2017. Previous judges spent millions of dollars in public funds to pay three private law firms to defend the previous practices of jailing people because they could not pay for their release, officials said.

Every judge who fought bail reform lost re-election, and 15 new judges took the bench Jan. 1. On Jan. 16, the newly-appointed Jordan announced the passage of Local Rule 9.1, which will finally bring bail reform to Harris County.

The main feature of the new rule is that "most misdemeanor arrestees will be released on a personal bond and given a court date without delay."

Studies show that the old system created more missed court appearances, more arrests and unsafe jail overcrowding.

"The final settlement of this case will be one of the greatest civil rights victories of this generation, and we did it here in Harris County," Jordan said.

The new rule will take effect in 30 days.

Copyright 2019 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.