Barbed wire, watchtowers, and guards.
Unjust punishment and dehumanization.
Propaganda and financial incentives.
Confinement without trial.
Many Americans living in the United States during the 1930s and early 1940s, didn’t think much about Germany. Little weight was given to secondhand reports. Confirmed reports were thought to be exaggerated and beyond-belief. It wasn’t until 1945 that Americans began to grasp the devastation left behind. By then it was too late. Millions had perished.
Unfortunately, we are often too late. Philosophical studies have concluded human beings are overwhelmingly cooperative. Our need to cooperate can lead us to turn a deaf ear on issues that don’t immediately impact us. Out of sight, out of mind. It isn’t until we are personally affected that we find ourselves in disbelief. Desperate for a solution to unjust punishment.
But, this isn’t about philosophy and this isn’t about the Third Reich, We aren’t going back in time. We don’t have to because all of the above can be found right here in the American justice system; the Texas justice system; the Harris County Justice system.
The Rise of Bail: The Beginning
Bail is an old-school tool originally used to assist in ensuring a person accused of a crime would appear for court. The theory was if a person put up their own money they were more likely to show up. Seems logical, although an outstanding warrant also seems logical.
Eventually, “entrepreneurs” discovered there were financial incentives tied to bond and formed bonding companies. A bonding company guarantees the bond for a non-refundable fee around 10% of the bond amount (although some bonding companies have been known to charge as much as 100% of the bond). If the accused fails to appear the bonding company is on the hook. Meaning, the original use of bail doesn’t even apply in today’s system.
When a person is arrested, they appear in front of a magistrate who assesses bail. Harris County magistrates rubber-stamp the amount from a bail schedule. While Texas law allows for personal recognizance bonds (zero money down), they are only used 7-8% of the time in Harris County. Once the bail amount is set, the accused (or accused’s family) is responsible for getting the necessary funds together to post bail.
In Harris County it is estimated up to 77% of the jail is made up of persons accused (emphasis on accused) of crime and
awaiting trial. Many of these accusations (emphasis on accusations) are low-level, non-violent offenses. Those unable to afford bail are left to sit. Mass incarceration.
Looking for the quickest exit, jail residents ignore collateral consequences attached to a criminal conviction by pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit. Doing so ensures they can get back to their homes, families, and jobs. It is a primary reason 95% of arrests end with a plea of guilty and is used to keep the court’s docket moving. Confined without trial.
In the last ten years, there have been nearly 200 deaths reported in the Harris County Jails. Knowing 77% of the jail is made up of Houstonians awaiting trial, 150 of those deaths are likely people with no business being in jail at all. These deaths have come at the hands of other inmates, uninhabitable conditions, disease, suicides, understaffed jails, and negligence.
The Axis Powers: Bail and Bail Conditions
The eradication of the presumption of innocence does not end once bail is posted. Certain accusations, carry with them bail conditions. Conditions the Texas Court of Appeals has held are necessary to secure the accused’s presence at trial, the safety of the victim, or the safety of the community. Burson v. State, 202 S.W.3d 423, 425 (Tex. App. – Tyler 2006, no pet.).
Take the real-world example below. One person has been convicted of Driving While Intoxicated and sentenced to a year probation. The other has been arrested for Driving While Intoxicated, posted bond, and been given bond conditions. Neither person has any prior criminal history. Disturbing is the inability to tell the difference.
Progressive leaders and civil right lawyers have recently made a strong push to rid of bail. As a result, many states have turned to personal recognizance bonds for an alternative. While this is a step in the right direction, as bail slowly diminishes pre-trial bond conditions are becoming more prevalent. When one door closes, another opens. Interlock devices, like the example from the DWI above, are cash cows with huge financial incentives.
Assume every person accused of DWI in Texas was ordered to have an interlock device as a condition of bail:
- Number of DWI arrests in Texas in 2015: 65,609
- Average Length of Time DWI is on court’s docket: 3 months
- Avg. Interlock Monthly Maintenance and Calibration Fee: $60
- (Monthly Fee * Docket Length) * # of DWI arrests = Total Interlock Fees.
- ($60 * 3) * 65,609 = $11,809,620.00 a year in interlock fees.
Throw in installation fees and that number grows.For interlock providers and investors business is good. Real good. As long as financial incentives outweigh the true purpose of justice, the system will be flawed. As long as we fail to make a difference, innocent lives will be adversely impacted. The writing is on the wall. Act, before it’s too late.
As long as financial incentives outweigh the true purpose of justice, the system will be flawed. As long as we fail to make a difference, innocent lives will be adversely impacted. The writing is on the wall. Act, before it’s too late. Act, before someone you care about, has their number called. Act, before your number is called.