Bail Reform Goes Off the Rails in Dallas and Harris County, Texas
Rich people can afford their bail and poor people can’t—the holy grail of bail slogans, jingles, catchphrases, watchwords, and mantras—is the heart of how criminal justice public policy is being designed these days. Even as scholarly research debunks the “stuck in jail” affordability argument on bail, that we simply hate something without clear or reasonable understanding of how it works is the kickstarter to carelessly reengineering the facts.
The definition of going off the rails, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, is when a person starts behaving in a way that is not generally acceptable, especially dishonestly or illegally. We prefer the Collins English Dictionary instead: “If someone goes off the rails, they start to behave in a way that other people think is unacceptable or very strange, for example, they start taking drugs or breaking the law.”
Dallas County Has Gone Off The Rails
Enter criminal justice reformer Dallas District Attorney John Creuzot, who likes to say, “Justice is hard work, and justice is heart work.” Last week, DA Creuzot introduced new criminal justice reform policyin Dallas that has certainly raised a few eyebrow’s—including Texas Governor Greg Abbot.
Under the new policy, no one who steals “personal items” is going to be prosecuted, meaning that businesses will now be required to provide such items for free. It’s going to be heart work, and candidly heart burn, for the business community in Dallas County who will be required to provide “personal items” to all people in Dallas not in excess of $750 per incident. A personal item could be a lot of things—from shaving razors, toothbrushes, steaks, toilet paper, etc. Of course, any person in Dallas can now just take what they want under the new threshold set by Creuzot. Only stuff that you take “for economic gain,” which incidentally is not defined, is omitted from this new policy. Of course, defendants will argue that the new big-screen was taken out of necessity and so was the new iPhone. After all, they needed to watch the weather report and make some phone calls.
Let’s just do some basic math on this socialistic welfare transfer. The average American spends $423 a month on food and clothing, which works out to be $5,076 a year. Dallas County has a population of 2.618 million persons. If every person decided to steal what they “need” and not “for economic gain,” then that would have to only steal 7 times at $749 to get this done, although due to food spoilage it would probably take a whole lot more. Of course, this would cost retailers a few dollars. Let’s assume that roughly only 5% of people will take advantage of this new loophole. That’s around 100,000 persons. That would cost retailers $507.6 million annually in lost merchandise. Obviously, it would be over $10 billion if all Dallas residents just took what they needed.
But, it doesn’t stop there—trespassing is no longer a problem as long as it does not involve a “residence or physical intrusion into property.” Which means homeless people on drugs can wander around and go wherever they want and stay there. This will include places like malls, shopping centers, bars and restaurants, libraries, etc.
On bail reform, DA Creuzot is just going to let ‘em all out. The Creuzot policy contains a presumption of release in all misdemeanors, regardless of whether domestic violence is involved. Same rule on felonies apply as long as your last felony was more than five years ago: “There shall be a presumption of release without pre-trial conditions for all people charged with a state jail felony who have no criminal convictions within the last five years.” Having an actual bail set requires clear and convincing evidence, which is rarely going to happen—and by design.
So, basically everyone is out unless it is a capitol offense. The policy also says a prosecutor cannot seek a monetary bail that a defendant is unable to pay—in other words, everyone is getting out whether they cough up a single penny or pay a million dollars. The policy in fact says that a bond someone is not able to post will serve to keep someone in jail pending trial. This means everyone pending disposition of criminal charges, including all but capitol offenses, will be getting out of jail in Dallas County, Texas.
Harris County Has Gone Off The Rails
Just when you think things cannot get any weirder, the Houston Chronicle reported over the weekend that the Harris County misdemeanor judges are going to settle their long-standing bail lawsuit by providing free cell phones, free Uber, and free child care to all those charged with a criminal case who claim they are indigent. When they say crime doesn’t pay, that was a generation ago. Forget about that present day. Now crime literally does pay–it pays your transportation bill, it pays your cell phone, and it pays for your daycare. Why wouldn’t you take up a new criminal career? It’s quick, doesn’t take eight hours much less forty, you don’t need any student loans, and will keep you in business for 9-12 months while you are “innocent.”
Bordering on farcical, we of course could not let this get past us. We had to get all of the details of this plan, which also includes running a misinformation campaign against those who oppose the bail reform efforts in Houston, Texas. Interestingly, the plan also includes developing a school curriculum on bail reform and designing “exhibits on bail reform in the lobby of the criminal courthouse, in the office of the County Court at Law Judges and the Harris County Jail.” We have to assume that Federal Judge Lee Rosenthal is statue worthy, although we regret that Augustus St. Gaudens is long gone since he is the only human being past or present worthy of undertaking such a project.
So, we issued an open records request to get the details. We will report back the findings. In the request, we note that there are many unresolved issues, such as:
Whether defendants will be forced to take mass transit instead of ride sharing services in order to fight climate change;
- Whether defendants will be allowed to take Uber Black or will have to use Uber pool;
- Whether Uber and Lyft drivers will be informed they are transporting criminal defendants or not and if they will also receive a copy of their pretrial risk assessment and score;
- Whether or not electric scooters and/or electric bicycles were considered and/or approved as a transportation mechanism in order to significantly reduce carbon emissions thereby stopping the planet’s ultimate and certain doom.
- Whether defendants will be able to port their cell phone numbers and be offered a selection of phones including I-phone and android;
- Why Taxicab drivers have been excluded as drivers in this new criminal social transportation justice movement.
Be warned – free Uber, free phones, and free child care are not for everybody. It is only for those who completely disrespect society and continue to commit crimes. The more the crimes, the more cell phones, the more free Uber rides, and the more free child care. The rest of you…you’re on your own.
It is fair to say that Dallas County and Harris County have simply gone off the rails with this bail and criminal justice reform. The question will be, when will the public say enough is enough?
Jeff Clayton, M.S., J.D.
American Bail Coalition