Texas County Hopes Online Dashboard Eases Crime Concerns

Texas County Hopes Online Dashboard Eases Crime Concerns

HOUSTON, Texas (CSU) – Officials in Texas’ busiest court system said Wednesday that a new online dashboard detailing statistics on the granting of bail in criminal cases would help address public worries about increasing crime.

The new dashboard, according to Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia, will also bring transparency and responsibility to the role of bail bondsmen in the criminal justice system. The county’s efforts, according to an attorney for a statewide association representing bondsmen, are a “distraction” meant to divert attention away from a problematic criminal justice system.

Some law enforcement officials, as well as community organizations and crime victims, have criticized the court system in Harris County, where Houston is situated, for reports that dangerous criminals are being freed on cheap bonds and then committing additional crimes.

While total crime in Houston fell by 3.4 percent in 2021, the nation’s fourth-biggest city has witnessed an uptick in violent crime, notably murders, similar to other major U.S. cities. Houston authorities revealed a $44 million strategy to combat growing violent crime earlier this month.

A backlog of criminal cases had suffocated the county’s court system, which started when the criminal courthouse was destroyed during Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and increased throughout the coronavirus outbreak.

Garcia said the county had spent more than $130 million on crime over the previous three years, and the new dashboard is part of an attempt to make the criminal justice system more transparent.

The new dashboard will provide several sorts of data, such as bonds authorized by crime type and a judge’s history of giving defendants bail.

Garcia said he was motivated to create the new dashboard after speaking with Paul Castro, whose 17-year-old son David was killed in a road rage shooting in July.

Castro said that he wanted crime victims like himself to have a better grasp of what is going on in their cases, including why a suspect was given bail and the involvement of judges and bail bondsmen.

“What ends up occurring is that we’re on our own.” “We’re at the mercy of a system that’s quite difficult to comprehend,” Castro said.

The dashboard, which was made public on Wednesday, shows that courts are issuing more and higher bonds for criminals, while bail bondsmen are providing “a fire sale on our safety,” according to Garcia.

To be freed, defendants often just have to pay a bondsman 10% of their bail. However, county authorities claim that certain bail bondsmen in the area are enabling individuals to pay significantly less than the statutory 10%.

County authorities want to petition the local bail bond board to impose a 10% minimum bond payment requirement at its next meeting in March. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has said that the city is considering enacting a municipal rule requiring bail bond businesses to charge at least 10% to guarantee a person’s release.

Ken W. Good, a Texas bail attorney and board member of the Professional Bondsmen of Texas, said his business would fight attempts to impose a 10% payment requirement, noting that bondmen have been utilizing payment plans for decades with no issues.

He claims it is the role of courts, not his sector, to determine who is eligible for bail.

“I believe this is all a ruse to divert attention away from the reality that their criminal justice system is dysfunctional and they have no strategy to improve it,” Good added.

Following a 2016 lawsuit arguing that impoverished misdemeanor defendants were kept behind bars due to poverty, a federal court ruled the Harris County misdemeanor bail system unlawful. Most misdemeanor offenders were freed within 48 hours after the case was settled on personal recognizance bonds that did not require payment.

In federal court, a comparable case involving criminal charges is currently underway.

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