How much does it cost to stay out of jail?

The criminal justice system works to hold people accountable for their illegal activities. Given the constitutional rights of Americans, someone who allegedly broke the law must be found guilty to serve the consequences determined by the court handling their case. However, not every judge determines sentencing reasonably and fairly, which can lead to disparity within the system.

Recent legislation in Harris County, Texas, sheds light on some of the potential problems within the nation’s third-largest system. Class-action lawsuits filed against the county may help reform the true meaning of justice for those incarcerated because of their financial constraints.

Economic status should not dictate justice

Those charged with minor offenses do not necessarily have to stay in jail while they await trial. Yet, some of the people incarcerated before their trial argue that the Harris County courts have a tradition of increasing economic disparity by making bail unaffordable to people from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

You might agree that an arrest for a misdemeanor charge ought not result in job loss or escalated family problems due to extended jail time. However, arguments raised against local courts asserted that some judges within Harris County:

  • Based freedom on the ability to post bail
  • Violated constitutional rights of the accused
  • Increased racial disparity

After dedicating over $9 million to fight the suit over the past three years, the county agreed to a bail reform agreement. But why do they feel this change is necessary?

What are the benefits of bail reform?

The concept of bail was meant to enforce court appearance after your arrest. Though, some advocates for bail reform suggest that other measures may increase the chances of the accused being present for their assigned court date.

Rather than coercing guilty pleas through pretrial imprisonment, freedom can help people defend themselves against their accusations. As opposed to unaffordable bail or incarceration, certain supports could benefit society through financial savings and equalized chances for independence.

Suggested supports include:

  • Referrals to social service organizations
  • Childcare
  • Transportation
  • Court date and time reminders

Finding ways to refocus the system on what is truly just could potentially save lives, keep families together and help people maintain gainful employment. At the root of it all, bail reform may change not only the way officials respond to offenses but also the current disparity in the system designed for fairness.