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Monday, January 23, 2012

How to Reduce Jail Over-Crowding in Kerr County - Stop the Bail Bond Racket

Before the Kerr County commissioners ask the voters to approve the $8MM bond and tax increase Sheriff Rusty Hierholzer is asking for to expand the jail, they should look at how Liberty County (between Houston and Beaumont) cut its jail population by 2/3's and saved millions of dollars. The key is to release non-violent offenders on personal recognizance bonds.From Grits for Breakfast:

Liberty County lowers jail pop nearly 2/3, private contractor wants to up rates, county may de-privatize

"Remarkably, Liberty County has reduced its local jail population by nearly 2/3 since early 2011 simply by issuing more personal bonds to low-risk defendants, reported the Cleveland Advocate ("County's jail population down, but companies now asking for more money per inmate," Jan. 22):
Liberty County is already seeing a reduction in costs for the operation of the county jail thanks to a plan initiated by 253rd District Court Judge Chap B. Cain and supported by County Judge Craig McNair, County Court-at-Law Judge Tommy Chambers and 75th District Court Judge Mark Morefield to reduce the inmate population. Morefield discussed the plan as guest speaker of the Cleveland Rotary Club luncheon on Jan. 18

According to Morefield, at the time the plan was put into place, the county was spending 11 percent of its total budget, around $3.85 million, to fund the county jail. Much of the burden had to do with the fact that non-violent offenders were not being released because they were unable to pay their bond.

“It is not about overcrowding. It’s about the expense to the county and ultimately the taxpayers of Liberty County,” said Morefield. “The plan is designed to release low-risk inmates. Give them a PR (personal recognizance) bond and get them out of jail and off the fee list. With PR bonds, there hasn’t always been oversight, but our plan alleviates some of the concern.”
I bet that most of the inmates in the Kerr County jail are non-violent (alleged) offenders who are not a danger to the community.Most are not a flight risk. But they routinely have to post bonds for thousands of dollars. Typically, they pay 10% as a premium to a bond company - if they can afford it. But someone who is having trouble even paying living expenses often doesn't have a thousands dollars or more (lots more) to pay for bail. So they sit in jail.

The federal courts generally handle more serious crimes but routinely release defendants on PR bonds. In some cases they make them wear an ankle bracelet and can trace every where they go and restrict them to home and work.The ones who are true flight risks and/or dangers to the community stay locked up.

It took the judges in Liberty County to reform the bail bond racket and it will require the same here.I hope our judges and the commissioners will talk to the folks in Liberty County.

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