The U.S. bail system is broken, and in no place is that more evidence than Harris County, Texas, where someone can be held for days, weeks, or even months before they are adjudicated by the courts on something as minor as a drug possession charge.
A recent piece in the Houston Chronicle looked at the bail system and those people spending time in Harris County jails pretrial. What they found was alarming.
Not only is the poor more likely to wait for trial in jail (because they can’t afford bail), but those who are stuck in jail until trial are more likely to serve longer sentences, and less likely to be offered lenient plea agreements by local prosecutors. In other words, if you’re poor, you lose.
A follow-up editorial in the Chronicle suggests the city change its focus completely. Instead of sending people to jail for drug possession and other low-level, nonviolent drug charges, we should be fining them or citing them to court.
Holding someone in jail is expensive and when they are there to answer to nonviolent drug possession charges, it makes little sense.
For the poor who can’t afford bail, that week or month in jail can cost them their job, their home, and even their family. Further, if they are being penalized more severely when they have their day in court, those initial losses are just the tip of the iceberg.
This suggests something larger at work in our system – an environment created by criminal court judges and prosecutors largely inured to the hardships and injustices routinely placed on the poor; and with no evident recognition of a cruel form of double jeopardy for the guilty, and unlawful confinement foisted on the innocent.
When we hold people in Harris County Detention for charges like drug possession, we are spending more than can be justified. Also, we are allocating resources away from enforcement efforts that could have positive effects—the enforcement of violent crimes, for example.
Not only could ticketing low-level drug offenders help save money, it could help save communities. Poor communities have been brought to shambles not necessarily by drugs but by the War on Drugs. By allowing someone accused of marijuana possession, for instance, to remain in their job and with their family while awaiting trial, we are more likely to keep that person as a tax-paying, upstanding member of society.
If you are accused of drug possession or even a felony drug charge in the state of Texas, you need an advocate who understands what you’re up against. Contact our offices today to see how we might be able to help.