During a July 21 meeting, Director of Pretrial Services Ronald Morgan updated the Commissioners Court on the department's plans to implement a risk assessment screening tool that will streamline the bail process.
Morgan said the tool has been proven to be more successful and more fair in supporting the release decision than making that decision based on qualitative information alone. He added that it allows for balance between providing justice but not at the cost of the defendant.
“Our goal here is to enhance the bail process in a way that respects those very important balances,” Morgan said. “Our job as a pretrial service agency is to help the magistrate judges as they make that liberty detention decision.”
Morgan said his office will be responsible for gathering and providing information including accurate risk and financial screening results and appropriate pretrial release recommendations rooted in best practices to support judicial bail decision-making. The assessment tool will assist judges in identifying the least restrictive conditions of release that will assure community safety and court appearance—the primary purpose of bail. Community safety will not be compromised, he said.
He added that bond decisions play powerful roles in a community, speaking to community safety, victims and families. For a defendant, its speaks to his or her ability to keep a job as well as maintain their housing or support their family, he said.
Ideally, the new bail process will reduce unnecessary detention, provide court date reminders to ensure court appearance, and provide effective and appropriate post-release supervision to defendants awaiting trial to assure compliance with court-ordered conditions of release, he said.
“We seek to maximize community safety, maximize court appearance and maximize the appropriate release of pretrial defendants,” Morgan said.
Morgan added that by succeeding in this, the jail population will go down only leaving space for those who most need it.
“The focus here is for folks to not be in the jail if they are not a risk to the public and if they are not a risk for flight,” Commissioner Valerie Covey said. “In an effort to not cause them be indigent by having them in jail and lose their job, we will allow them to be out on bail.”
In other business
- The court approved issuing a comment letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommending the removal for the Bone Cave harvestman from the Federal List of Endangered Species on the grounds that the species had recovered and that the species was originally listed in error. Both Commissioners Cynthia Long and Covey said the yellow arachnid are plentiful and can be found all over the county.
- The court approved an increase in landfill tipping fee rates. Effective Aug. 1, the tip fee rate will be $44/ton plus applicable fees and surcharges. Cars and pickups will be charged a flat rate of $40/vehicle. The brush rate will be $7.50/cubic yard. A tipping fee is what is paid for someone to dispose of waste in a landfill.
- Through the use of federal coronavirus relief funding, Wilco Forward Phase 3 was also approved to provide rent and utility assistance to residents who are in need through partnerships with nonprofits the Caring Place, The Salvation Army and the Round Rock Serving Center. The county has already provided funding to area small businesses and cities with its more than $93 million in relief aid.