March 2020 brought a host of changes to Texan’s lives, even in the justice system. Let’s take a look at how COVID impacts bond restrictions in Harris County–and still do today.
No-cost bond system
Before the pandemic hit, judges in Harris County allowed those accused of crimes to bail out under a no-cost or own recognizance (OR) system. Under this plan, the accused is allowed to leave jail under the condition that they agree to return at their court date. The judge may request additional circumstances, like no drugs or alcohol, checking in with a probation officer, etc.
For low-income families, this was a long-awaited change. Not everyone has the money to bond out of jail. In addition, letting people accused of petty crimes go home allows them to contribute to society. The entire practice seemed like a win-win.
COVID-19 Executive Orders
Along with a slew of other orders, Governor Abbott changed the rules for allowing OR bonds. Anyone accused or convicted of violent crimes may not receive a no-cost bond. They must pay cash bonds or remain in jail.
The Governor cited concerns about public health and safety. He stated that letting potentially violent people free would pose a threat when the public is already stressed. First responders should be able to respond to health emergencies, not dangerous residents.
Restricting OR bonds was considered highly controversial. Firstly, the rule only affects the poor. Secondly, jails had already become a breeding ground for the virus, so preventing people from leaving was considered a possible death sentence.
In fact, that unfortunately proved true for a 65-year-old man. While not accused of a violent crime, he was convicted many years earlier of a violent crime. Unfortunately, he could not afford the $100 bail, contracted COVID-19, and died in the Harris County jail.
Flash forward to today, where the case count is the lowest it’s been in a year. Governor Abbott has reopened the state with no restrictions…except on the bonding end.
The executive order blocking OR bonds remains in place. Harris County tried to point out how this order is unjust, and the case went as high as the Texas Supreme Court. However, the Texas Supreme Court ultimately ended up supporting the Governor’s order.
As a result, the restrictions to no-cost bonds remain in place. Many in jail cannot afford to post bond and are paying the price for it. Meanwhile, dangerous criminals with a history of violence manage to bail out repeatedly because they have the money.
To say this is unfair would be an understatement. In fact, experts have found that those released on an OR bond were less likely to commit another crime.
Contact us for help
At ASAP Bail Bonds, we know not everyone can make bail on their own. If you’ve been affected by the no-cost bonds restrictions, give us a call today. We’ll discuss your needs and get back to your family ASAP.