Criminal Justice Reform Hot Topic For Next Legislature
Coming out of the 2018 State Party Conventions (Republicans and Democrats) reflect a bipartisan support for Criminal Justice Reform that could potentially see Texas State lawmakers take action that both platforms are calling for.
Similar platforms with Democrats leaning to a more comprehensive reform versus the Republicans common sense approach redefines the old way of “tough on crime” into being “smart on crime”.
Last week, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Lee Rosenthal revised her ruling in the Harris County bail case filed on behalf of Maranda ODonnell, a single mother who was jailed for 2 days on a Class C misdemeanor because she could not pay the $2,500 bail. Judge Rosenthal ruled in February that the bail system utilized in Harris County, as well as most counties in Texas, was unconstitutional. In a 193-page ruling, Judge Rosenthal ruled that the practice of jailing low-level misdemeanors was fundamentally unfair due to the inability to pay by defendants. Rosenthal found that it violated due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.
In her revised ruling on Friday, Rosenthal would allow poor people arrested on certain offenses to be released immediately without posting money up front. People arrested on misdemeanors charges are to be interviewed about their financial conditions for an affidavit. Those who have been deemed eligible for release at a hearing will have the option of being released within 24 hours of their arrest, regardless of whether they can afford bail.
While this case works its way through the Court system, the growing calls for Criminal Justice reform can be heard from local level judiciaries to Federal level legislation. It should be incumbent on state lawmakers to make the necessary changes that would offer compliance with our Constitution.
With bipartisan support, legislators should look at repealing the Driver Surcharge program which historically is a double penalty for the most indigent Texans. The program has routinely been chastised for failing to properly notify drivers of suspensions placed on their licenses while failing to collect the assessed fines in total. Opponents to the program have consistently cited that while the driver may pay their traffic fines in full, they are hit with “double jeopardy” with another fine by the Driver Surcharge program for the same offense.
Other areas of bipartisan support:
Raise the Age – Raising the age at which a youth can be charged as an adult to 18.
Cease Class C Arrests – Both parties agree that Class C misdemeanors should not result in arrest.
Require conviction for Assets Seizure – This should be a no-brainer. Eliminating civil asset forfeiture without conviction beyond a reasonable doubt would bring Texas in compliance with the Fourth Amendment.
End Debtors Prison – Warrantless round-ups for traffic tickets for the basis of placing people in jail is something that I have advocated for years against. Not only does this cost the taxpayer more money in the housing of non-violent offenders, it is by virtue, debtors prison. The GOP platform called for the Legislature to “enact laws that end the incarceration of individuals because they cannot pay tickets, fines, and fees for Class C Misdemeanors, including traffic.”
Lawmakers return to Session in January of 2019, it would be in the public’s best interest if they took on these measures. Saving taxpayer dollars and complying with the Constitution can only benefit our State and the residents.
Being smart on crime is what Texans want. A recent survey in May 2018 reflected the desires of 600 Republican voters. It is clear that 91% wanted increased job training programs for those incarcerated. You can view the full results here.
State Representative James White, Chairman of the House Corrections Committee, spoke with me at length about the need for Criminal Justice Reform. “I am hoping that this next session, we will see changes enacted that we can all agree upon.
To avoid further expensive litigation and improper jailing of low-level offenders, Texas 86th session has all the tools and support they need to enact bipartisan laws.