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TEXAS VIEW: Is bail reform dangerous? What the data really says - Odessa American: Texas Opinion

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TEXAS VIEW: Is bail reform dangerous? What the data really says

THE POINT: People shouldn’t be kept behind bars on the basis of their bank accounts rather than their risk to society.

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Posted: Wednesday, March 6, 2019 3:30 am

If you want to see the future of bail reform in Texas, look to Philadelphia.

Beginning last February, District Attorney Larry Krasner refused to seek cash bail for dozens of nonviolent offenses, enough to comprise 61 percent of his office’s cases, ranging from shoplifting to DUI to small-time pot dealing. That’s turned Philadelphia into a testing ground for criminal justice reform, and critics and supporters alike have been anxious to see the results. Last week they finally got their answer — one that should encourage advocates and give detractors serious pause.

A study published last week by George Mason University found Krasner’s policy resulted in a 23 percent increase in the number of defendants released without preconditions and a 22 percent decrease in the number of defendants who spent at least one night in jail. At the same time, the study found no effect on recidivism, violent offenses or failure to appear in court.

These findings shouldn’t be surprising — they track with results in plenty of other places that have undergone bail reform. New Jersey almost entirely eliminated cash bail in 2017 and violent crime has declined by 30 percent since then. A federal judge ordered Harris County to overhaul our unconstitutional misdemeanor bail system in 2017, and last year Houston saw violent crime decline by 10 percent. While it’s a stretch to tie any single policy to a change in crime rates, these statistics show that at the very least the new policies aren’t leading to the spike in violence that critics predicted. Detractors — supported by the bail bondsmen whose cash flow is at risk — have cried that bail reform is just code word for jailbreak.

The fear-mongering is a narrative based on anecdotes, not data. Individual cases of criminals re-offending while out on personal recognizance bonds may seem distressing, but they often work to obscure rather than to illuminate greater trends.

Those on the front lines of our criminal justice system have a different take than those who make money off it — they believe that keeping people out of jail can actually help reduce crime.

“When you don’t tear apart people’s lives, and when you keep them in contact with the things that keep them on course, they are less likely to commit crimes in the future,” Krasner said at a press conference last week.

However, there is one undeniable effect of bail reform: It stops an unconstitutional practice that kept people behind bars on the basis of their bank accounts rather than their risk to society. By that measure, these new criminal justice policies are an undeniable success.

As Texas legislators debate statewide bail policy, we encourage them to put any scary anecdotes in proper context and heed the Constitution first.

Odessa, TX

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