Texas bailout highlights inequities between poor, rich defendants

Published 12:56 am Friday, December 24, 2021

By Roz Brown

Texas News Service

Nine Texas residents now held in the Dallas County jail system will be bailed out this Thursday and met by reform advocates who say the bail system is not equitable.

As in other states, many of those arrested in Texas remain in jail before their criminal cases are resolved and while still legally presumed innocent. Some with enough money to post bond get out of jail, while poorer inmates remain locked up.

Rev. Robin Murray, lead community organizer for Faith in Texas, said many inmates deserve to be with their families.

“We are looking to use a little over $98,000 to bail out nine people,” Murray explained. “And this is a really big deal because we want people home for the holidays.”

A bail reform bill was signed into law by the Texas governor this year to keep dangerous criminals off the streets, but it did not address the discriminatory jailing of poor people.

As is the case nationwide, Black people are more likely to be jailed in Texas than white people. Only 13% of the population in Texas is Black, but according to the Vera Institute of Justice, one third of Texas’ inmates in 2019 were Black.

Mark Walters, Jr., bail fund organizer for Faith in Texas, said staying in jail because bail money can’t be raised can wreak havoc on poor defendants’ lives.

“We don’t believe that individuals should stay in jail because they’re poor,” Walters asserted. “So in actuality the unspoken thing is that they’re actually already serving a sentence, and they haven’t even been convicted of a crime yet.”

Parts of the bail-reform bill such as requiring judicial training and requiring officials to review a defendant’s criminal history before setting bail were widely supported. But Murray emphasized civil rights advocates, including Faith in Texas, fought against a provision which would have restricted charitable groups such as hers from posting bail for defendants.

“If you have money, then you can get out and be with your family, go back to your job, which gives you money to pay your bills,” Murray noted. “But if you don’t, then you have this ripple effect of losing a lot.”

Murray said the nine released from the Lew Street County Jail at 2:00 p.m. will be presented with a gift of $100 in cash, and provided an opportunity to discuss their case.