Harris County: Your Self-Praise Stinks

Harris County Criminal Justice officials have recently announced the coming of some long over-due reforms. They have been more than a little vague on what those reforms will be.

District Attorney Devon Anderson has announced one reform: plans for more diversions (an outcome where low risk offenders are kept out of jail and given a second chance). DA Anderson should be commended for her commitment toward more diversions. This is a tangible reform.

But more diversions from the DA will not solve the primary problems in our local criminal justice system. So long as the Harris County judiciary systematically denies PR bonds (Ed. note: read more here, here and here – as you can see we talk about this a lot but it falls on deaf ears), there will be no justice in Harris County.

It’s real simple. So long as the judges systematically deny PR bonds, the poor will remain in jail. The poor will continue to be forced to plead guilty to obtain their liberty.

The judges now uniformly say they would grant more PR bonds but can’t because they lack a good tool to evaluate risk. This is False. The risk assessment tool already in place is more than adequate to make an informed decision on whether to grant a PR bond. And, where there is doubt or concern, why not hold an actual bail hearing?

The claimed lack of an adequate risk assessment tool is smoke utilized by the judiciary in an attempt to justify their unjustifiable denial of PR BONDS.

When a person makes a surety bond, there is no risk assessment. If a person can afford to hire a bondsman they can be charged with murder and walk right out of jail. But a poor person who cannot afford a bond who is charged with trespass stays in jail because the judges falsely claim they can’t adequately access his risk of coming back to court. The judiciary speaks with a giant forked tongue.

In Harris County, if you have money and can hire a bondsman, you don’t need a risk assessment, not even for fixing the amount of bail. It’s simply of no concern. But, if you are poor and in the county’s clutches, you will stay in jail because the judges claim they can’t determine your risk.

The truth is, the judiciary can make the risk assessment. Risk assessment is simply the latest lame judicial excuse, in a long line of lame judicial excuses, utilized to justify the systematic denial of PR bonds.

Let me be clear:

The judge’s systematic denial of PR BONDS is not caused by an inadequate risk assessment tool.

The judiciary’s systematic denial of PR BONDS is driven by the judiciary’s shared desire to perpetuate the County’s evil Plea Mill. This is most evident in the County Criminal Courts at Law.

This double standard, this blatant denial of Equal Protection, is precisely what will get Harris County sued in federal court. That’s not justice in Harris County.

The county officials talk of reform and pat themselves on the back. They should not pat themselves on the back so hard as to knock themselves down. In fact, they should not pat themselves on the back at all. The county has perpetuated the systematic abuse of the poor and minorities for decades. The county should not now engage in self-praise for making minor adjustments to an otherwise abusive system that they continue to perpetuate.

About Robert Fickman

Robert Fickman is a criminal defense attorney with 30 years experience in defending the citizen accused in both state and federal court. He is a past president of HCCLA and remains active in its mission.