We should look before we leap into the get-out-of-jail-free proposition conceived by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, and Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction. It will endanger public safety, slow the wheels of justice, crowd our jails and add a new burden to county taxpayers.
First, let’s take a tour of recent news from New Jersey:
Danyisha Bailey, 22, of Jersey City, was charged with slashing a man multiple times with a box cutter. Appearing in court April 20, Bailey was told to appear at all court hearings and to stay away from the man. But she was let out of jail on personal recognizance — a mere promise to appear when summoned.
Caz Minor, 51, of Newark was charged with his first burglary on April 21, released, then charged with a second burglary on April 24. Each time, he was released on personal recognizance.
Marquis Foster, 24, of Trenton, was arrested April 28 after police found 593 decks of heroin in his car during a traffic stop. He was freed May 1 on personal recognizance after being charged with possession and distribution.
Meanwhile in Austin, Sen. Whitmire and Rep. Murr are sponsoring legislation similar to the law that went into effect Jan. 1 in New Jersey. Their bills, SB 1338 and HB 3011, would require counties to implement software called the Automated Risk Assessment Tool (ARAT).
On Thursday, the state Senate approved SB 1338 by a final vote of 21-10. The legislation now faces action in the House.
Public employees would have to be hired and trained in use of ARAT, and then maintain and support it with constant data inputs. Once fed, this controversial software would spit out a recommendation on whether a defendant was sufficiently low-risk and his crime sufficiently minor to be released on personal recognizance.
Supervision of a defendant would fall on the county, which often is ill equipped to supervise. If a defendant flees, the county would be responsible for capturing him and returning him to court. All of this costs money, and the proposed bills are an “unfunded mandate” imposed on the counties.
In other words, county property taxpayers would be left holding the bag.
Under current law, seasoned magistrates and judges set bail or determine whether a defendant should be released on personal recognizance. I don’t argue against personal recognizance in some cases where the defendant is too poor to afford bail, and where his alleged crime is minor. But I trust judges to make that decision, not blind algorithms.
SB 1338 and HB 3011 would create more government work and ask you, the taxpayer, to sign the check. Right now, Texas’ 10,000 bail bondsman and their employees do this work at no cost to you. Most defendants can afford commercial bail, and credit terms are almost always available.
Bail bondsmen and women are small business people who risk their capital and their personal safety.
This legislation should be defeated. South Texas is represented by many able legislators who will have a large say in the matter. Among them are Sens. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels; and Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio; and House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio; and Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, D-San Antonio. I respectfully encourage them to defeat this proposed legislation.
So-called bail reform puts public safety at risk. It delays justice, which means crowded jails. It eliminates private sector jobs in favor of government jobs. It will cost you more in taxes.
Rene Ortega Jr. is owner of A-Budget Bail Bonds in McAllen.