Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, communities across the country have been grappling with increases in violent crime. Bail reform—which has been proven to promote public safety and improve access to pretrial justice—has come under scrutiny in recent months in a continued effort to distract from the real root of the country’s violent crime problem: the availability of guns. Powerful stakeholders with perverse incentives to preserve cash bail have grabbed hold of the national conversation and filled it with unfounded claims that bail reform is linked to increased rates of violent crime. The truth is that bail reform makes us safer—and it is gun access that is a key driver of violent crime and homicides.
Meanwhile, federal monitors found that the misdemeanor reforms were overwhelmingly successful. People were appearing for court dates, time spent in jail plummeted, dismissal rates doubled, and recidivism rates were unchanged.
So why did pundits and politicians claim a bail reform catastrophe?
The Texas Center for Justice and Equity released a report in November that details how “bias in the media” and a calculated misinformation campaign promoted misleading narratives about pretrial practices.
But for the industry, the more important aspect of the bill was what it didn’t do. While it targeted judges’ perceived role in speeding defendants’ return to the streets, it failed to even mention the deals that Harris County bondsmen have for years been cutting on an increasing number of violent felonies, also helping defendants to secure their freedom more easily while they await trial.
As Harris County judges take heat for felony bonds, critics point to unnoticed culprit: The bondsmen
Judges set bail, but it’s the bondsmen who decide how much a defendant pays to get out of jail.
The long-held 10 percent standard — with defendants or their loved ones paying a tenth of the bail amount to a private company — is not gospel anymore in Harris County and likely never was. People have been securing their release from jail on lower fees for years, according to county data and bail agents.