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A crisis of symbolism, a call for substance

JOHN CREUZOT | 9/4/2017, 8:24 a.m.
Today, I want to talk about bail reform and why it matters to our community. Your Dallas County Criminal Judges ...
Attorney John Creuzot

The Creuzot Law Firm

Today, I want to talk about bail reform and why it matters to our community. Your Dallas County Criminal Judges and your Dallas County Commissioners and the local bail bond industry are working together to implement modern, evidence-based factors to determine the conditions of bail and release.

Bail bond reform needs our attention because, for too long, Dallas County has relied on subjective criteria, and the wealth of an accused individual, to dictate whether the accused stays in jail awaiting trial or is released to the community to await trial. The current pretrial detention decision-making process regularly results in the release of the wealthy and the detention of the poor in jail, regardless of a person’s risk of skipping court. Basing a system of pretrial release on wealth without regard to risk to appear in court violates the rights of the poor and endangers the safety of our community.

More than 50 years ago, when addressing the American Bar Association, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy stated that “Repeated and recent studies demonstrate there is little – if any – relationship between appearance at trial and the ability to post bail.” President Lyndon B. Johnson state in his remarks at the signing of the Bail Reform Act of 1966, “Because of the bail system, the scales of justice have been weighted for almost two centuries not with fact, nor law, nor mercy. They have been weighted with money.” The problem persists 50 years later, and we need to do something about it.

In recent years, criminal justice professionals, non-profit groups and academic researchers have studied what factors can assist judges and communities to evaluate the risk that a person will appear in court after arrest, engage in new criminal activity or commit new violent criminal activity. These studies, as well as research and pilot-programs, have enabled us to implement reforms that reduce jail populations and attendant costs, keep families intact, help the poor maintain employment and ensure a higher rate of return to court. At the same time, we have created risk assessment tools that predict the likelihood that a person will commit a new crime or a new violent crime.

It is the right time for all Texas counties to study and implement these easy to measure risk factors and implement them for each person arrested and taken to jail. Doing so will create a more equitable criminal justice system in each county. Freeing those that pose little to no risk to abscond is demanded by our state and national constitutions. Keeping the community safe from those that will likely commit a new or serious offense is common sense.

How do we easily and quickly accomplish these goals? First, each jailed person should receive an individualized risk assessment. If any person is low to no risk to abscond or commit a new or serious offense, they should be allowed to go home without any monetary requirements. Financial means should never be a factor in determining the level of risk to appear in court.