AP NEWS

Bail reform issue not going away in Bexar County

March 13, 2019

Bexar County’s misdemeanor judges are newly elected but already have been put on notice. This is because the county court-at-law judges have refused to endorse bail reform, even as bipartisan change is sweeping the nation.

Texas Organizing Project and Color of Change, a national nonprofit focused on racial injustice and civil rights, recently submitted more than 20,000 signatures to county judges calling for the end of cash bail here. The signatures were local, statewide and national, organizers said.

The push is an ethical one focused on nonviolent offenses. Two people can be charged with the same crimes and pose the same risks to the public. But a wealthier defendant can post bond and be released pretrial while a poor defendant will remain incarcerated. This split can make all the difference. Experts have said staying locked up pretrial leads to greater recidivism rates, separates people from their families and jobs, and can compel people to plead guilty even if innocent.

We know such inequalities exist in Bexar County because officials have identified roughly 130 people in jail for nonviolent misdemeanor charges who could not pay a cash bond. We know Janice Dotson-Stephens, a schizophrenic grandmother, died in jail this December after languishing for five months on a trespassing charge. Her bond was $300.

Harris County’s misdemeanor judges have eliminated cash bail for nonviolent misdemeanors, and Bexar County’s judges should do the same. Nothing is stopping them except a lack of political will. Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales, who was backed by TOP this election, supports bail reform. So do Sheriff Javier Salazar and County Judge Nelson Wolff. Nationally, groups from the right and left support doing away with cash bail because of the obvious constitutional and ethical problems.

The Eighth Amendment says: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

It should not be so hard for Bexar’s judges to do the right thing.