Texas Gets National Attention—For Failing on Pretrial

Texas Gets National Attention—For Failing on Pretrial

In June of this year, the Vera Institute of Justice published “Out of Sight: The Growth of Jails in Rural America,” listing the counties and parishes across the country with the highest rates of pretrial incarceration. Of the top 10 counties with the highest rates of pretrial incarceration, four are Texas counties—more than any other state. They include the following counties: Limestone (7), Dimmit (5), Garza (4), and Kent (3).

Then, this month, the Pretrial Justice Institute published “The State of Pretrial Justice in America,” which assigned letter grades to every state on pretrial from A to F. Texas was given a D. Both in grade school and in pretrial, a D is failing.

Pretrial release decisions are crucial in the safe and efficient operation of Texas jails. Unfortunately – but not surprisingly, considering the findings above – a 2016 study found that “Texas’ resource-based bail system keeps low-risk individuals unnecessarily detained before trial and allows risky defendants to buy their freedom with limited oversight. This practice undermines public safety, disproportionately harms low-income defendants, and costs counties millions of dollars every year.”

In other words, many people who cannot afford to pay bail are locked up until trial, while the wealthier go free. And taxpayers foot the bill for lower-income folks to sit in jail, legally innocent, waiting for their case to be called.

Risk assessment tools that more accurately measure a person’s risk to the community, as opposed to resource-based assessments that discriminate against low-income defendants, could alleviate the costly strain on county jails (and on taxpayers), as would the increased and safe use of personal “no cost” bonds, and a presumption of pretrial release for low-risk individuals.

Pretrial reform leads to safer, more just outcomes, and it could save millions of dollars annually. Nonetheless, there are those who advocate against improvements to Texas’ broken bail system. Refer them here, to a fact sheet of responses to five false claims about personal bonds and pretrial reform.

About the Author

Lindsey Linder, J.D.

Lindsey Linder

Lindsey Linder is the former Senior Policy Attorney for the Texas Center for Justice and Equity. Lindsey co-founded the Texas Women’s Justice Coalition, a statewide group of more than 60 system-impacted women and advocates calling for women’s justice, and she was a 2020 finalist for the Austin Under 40 Awards for her policy work and advocacy. During summer 2014, she interned with UNICEF in Tel Aviv, Israel, drafting a report on Israel’s implementation of the UN treaty Convention on the Rights of the Child to be submitted to the New York and Geneva United Nations headquarters for review. Lindsey first joined TCJE as a member of Senator Rodney Ellis’ Texas Legislative Internship Program, and she continued to support TCJE while completing law school, receiving her Juris Doctor with honors from Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 2016.

The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition is now the Texas Center for Justice and Equity! Learn More