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Nonprofit bail funds, civil liberty groups critical of Texas’ new bail bill

Nonprofit bail funds, civil liberty groups critical of Texas’ new bail bill

Nonprofit bail funds, civil liberty groups critical of Texas’ new bail bill
October 02
12:00 2021

Critics of Texas’ new bail reform legislation Senate Bill 6, also known as the Damon Allen Act, have been quick to point out the law’s restrictive impact on communities and nonprofit bail funds.

“The Damon Allen Act ensures Texas communities are safe and secure by making it harder for dangerous criminals to be released on bail,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a press release.

Bail is the conditional release of a defendant with the promise to appear in court at the appointed date. In the U.S., a deposit of money or a form of property is often given to the court in return for release from pre-trial detention. However, personal bonds, a sworn agreement by the defendant that they will return to court, do not require payment unless the individual misses their court date.

SB 6 prohibits the cashless personal bond release of defendants accused of a violent offense or those who are charged while released on bail. It also dictates that a defendant must be granted a personal or cash bond or be denied bail within 48 hours of being arrested. The law requires judicial training, data collection and official review of the defendant’s criminal history before setting said bail.

The new bill has been met with critical reactions by charitable bail fund organizations.

“As of July 2021, we have bailed out over 700 people and have spent over a million dollars and would be subject [to] the new process which the bail bill calls for,” said Laquita Garcia, statewide policy coordinator for Texas Organizing Project. “I do not think at all that this is a step in the right direction.”

Charitable organizations like the TOP Community Bail Fund are limited by SB 6. The legislation requires charitable bail organizations to file with a county clerk and submit files to a sheriff every month. These sheriffs have wide discretion over whether these organizations can operate in each county and can issue warnings and year-long suspensions.

The bail bill does not affect for-profit bail organizations.

“What the bill does is allow the sheriff to suspend [a nonprofit bail fund’s] operations entirely if they make clerical or paperwork errors,” said Nick Hudson, policy and advocacy strategist for American Civil Liberties Union. “What that means is a sheriff could end a charitable bail operation in the jurisdiction. The effect of that would be more people would have no option but to go to a bail bondsman to purchase their freedom.”

Garcia had concerns about the impact of the bail bill on lower-income residents.

“It continues to reinforce the two-tier criminal system in which if you’re rich, you can get out of jail and afford a proper defense, and if you’re poor, you have to sit in jail and often time plead guilty to crimes you haven’t committed simply because you can’t afford to pay your way out of the situation,” Garcia said.

The bill does not allow personal bond conditions like ankle monitors to qualify as an option for defendants accused of violent crimes.

“Taking away personal bonds for the large set of people poses an absolute bar on release for people who are too poor to afford their bail while allowing identically situated people with money to purchase their liberty,” Hudson said.

The effort and funds spent introducing and enforcing the Damon Allen Act, Garcia said, would better be spent elsewhere.

“We should be reallocating these funds to resources that really keep our community safe and really identify the root causes of mass incarceration,” Garcia said.

Nonprofit leadership studies junior Nolan Adams, a student who had previous experience with the bail system, had a $2,000 fine for failing to have proper window screens. The citation went unnoticed by Adams, a warrant was issued and he was arrested on his way to the university.

Adams was told he had to pay cash bail, which means he had to pay for the full fine amount in order to be released and would receive the amount back when he showed in court.

“If I had just been issued a personal recognizance bond, I would have been able to make it out in time to take my final and not fail my course,” Adams said.

While SB 6’s restrictions on personal bonds would not have affected Adams’ situation, he said the new legislation could result in more negative outcomes as he experienced.

“All [the bill] does is retrenches the state of Texas with the past bail system,” Adams said. “It creates more situations like mine.”

The legislation is named after State Trooper Damon Allen, who was killed in 2017 during a traffic stop by a man out on a cash bond of $15,000. Under Senate Bill 6, people charged with violent crimes can still be released on cash bonds.

“[The defendant who killed Damon Allen] was out on money bail, which this bill does not do anything about,” Hudson said. “While this bill has inoffensive parts, multiple parts look like a big wet kiss to the bail industry.”

Proponents of the law said Allen’s killer was let out because the judge did not have his criminal record to refer to, which would be available under the new system, according to Texas Public Radio.

Featured Illustration by J. Robynn Aviles

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Daniel Herrera

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