Will Florida follow the lead of Houston, Texas on bail reform? Houston’s results paint a dire picture and should cause concern for lawmakers considering dangerous legislation.
Bail reformers have somehow managed to convince the legislature that releasing more people on a “promise to appear” will create a new criminal utopia, saving money while not having an impact on appearances in court or new crimes while out on bail.
While proponents use a litany of science that allegedly backs up their new utopia, the reality is that the best comparison of what Florida is about to do is what is happening in Harris County, Texas.
Last year, a federal judge held that Harris County’s bail system was unconstitutional. Of course, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit narrowed the order significantly, holding that there is no right to an affordable bail, and that if a bail is set by a schedule, then a defendant should get review of that bail by a judge within 48 hours of being arrested. Harris County’s system was held unconstitutional because, while they had a review of bails, the defendants were not allowed to speak at such hearings.
While the order from the federal judge was pending, thousands of misdemeanor defendants were released on unsecured bonds and a simple promise to appear – and the results are quite instructive as to what we can expect if the Florida legislature does not take a stand against these “get out of jail free” policies.
In a recent filing (Harris County Judges’ Response), the Harris County Attorney noted that the community had suffered irreparable harms as a result of the judge’s order. In a detailed statistical report, the Harris County Attorney noted that simply giving a summons to huge numbers of criminal defendants completely and totally backfired.
What do the numbers show? Of those misdemeanor defendants who were given a summons instead of being required to post bail, the results were astounding. 44.75% of those defendants released on an unsecured bond failed to show up for court! Of those released on a financial condition of bail, only 8.73% failed to show up for court.
Of course, those happy with the order have taken to the press to try and blame the failures to appear on anything they can come up with—even blaming Hurricane Harvey.
Despite these failing results , there remains an even bigger problem – those defendants that were released on these unsecured bonds with a “promise to appear” committed more crimes than those who posted their own cash or used a bail agent. The crimes were not a bunch of low level nuisance crimes. They range from homicide and rape, to guns and drugs.
Before the Florida legislature goes down this road, we would encourage them to take a look at what happened in Houston.
It is absolutely clear that if the Florida legislature does not reject the current bail reform legislation being proposed, the result will be just like in Houston: creating a culture of non-accountability that will cause irreparable damage to Florida’s communities.