A Houston State Senator Wants To Add Risk Assessment To Bail Hearings

John Whitmire wants to address the thousands of people who sit in jail, unable to pay. But some criminal justice advocates disagree with his approach.

By Jill AmentFebruary 5, 2019 11:24 am,

Under the cash bail system, almost everyone accused of a crime, in theory, has the ability to get released prior to trial. But it doesn’t always work that way. When bail is set, only those with the resources to pay get to walk. That means that, often, those who don’t have enough money can essentially be penalized more for the same crime.

Cities and counties nationwide have started to overhaul their bail systems, and Harris County has been at the forefront of this movement. But for some Texas lawmakers, it hasn’t been enough. Democratic state Sen. John Whitmire represents the 15th District, which includes north Houston and parts of Harris County, and he proposed legislation Monday that would require magistrate judges to do a risk assessment when determining someone’s bail.

“In Texas … [there’s] approximately 41,000 people in our county jails, most of whom have not been convicted of anything. In fact, 75 percent of them haven’t even been to court yet,” Whitmire says. “Most of these individuals are misdemeanors, low amounts of bond … and people just don’t have it, so they sit there, often times sitting longer than what the sentence would be.”

What you’ll hear in this segment:

– Why some criminal justice advocates don’t support the risk-assessment approach

– How bond is meant to be a tool to get someone back to court, rather than a punishment

– How likely Whitmire’s legislation will become law

Written by Caroline Covington.