By Evan Mintz
I’m looking for stories of Houstonians who have been charged with misdemeanors and directly benefitted from the recent pretrial reforms.
In 2016, Harris County was sued for using an unconstitutional cash bail system in its misdemeanor courts. In 2019, Local Rule 9 was implemented, setting out new regulations around misdemeanor pretrial systems. Under these rules, most people charged with a low-level crime in Harris County are released without a secured money bond — with exceptions for domestic violence, new crimes while on release or supervision, second DWI charges, and a few other circumstances.
So far the results have been overwhelmingly positive. Researchers have found a decline in repeat offending rates, decline in re-arrest rates, reduction in misdemeanor filings, and a decrease in the length of pretrial detention.
But while we have lots of data, we don’t have the stories about how these changes have impacted individual Houstonians. Under the old cash bail system, legally innocent mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, would remain stuck in jail simply because they didn’t have enough money. Even a few days in jail can inflict serious harm on an individual, causing them to lose their job, their home, or even their family.
In fact, we know that dozens Houstonians actually pleaded guilty to crimes they didn’t commit simply to get out of jail on a “time-served” punishment.
The misdemeanor reforms are supposed to put an end to these unjust and undeserved harms inflicted by cash bail. But the best way to tell that story is from the perspective of Houstonians who got to go home to their jobs, families and communities rather than stay stuck in behind bars.
The ACLU and Drug Policy Alliance worked with Brave New Films to tell the story about how bail reform in New Jersey helped people get back to their lives rather than suffer needlessly before trial.
It is time for Houston to tell our story.
Please reach out to me if you have anyone who would be interested in talking about their time in the Harris County criminal justice System and was materially aided by a PR release under Rule 9.