The Harris County Justice Administration Department reported recent bail reforms for those who have committed misdemeanors have positively affected the community, according to a March 16 news release.

These findings were recently presented to the Harris County Commissioners Court by independent monitors led by Duke University Professor Brandon Garrett. He and his team reported the reforms have saved taxpayers more than $6 million per year, resulted in a decline in recidivism numbers and eliminated disparities among those who are unable to pay the cash bond for pretrial release, according to the release.

These socioeconomic disparities were increasingly prevalent before the implementation of increased protections for arrestees in impoverished communities, officials said. Previously, detainees would be held in jail until their cases were resolved because of their inability to post bail. Jails were thus crowded with those arrested for misdemeanors, resulting in the need for more taxpayer dollars to detain these arrestees as well as those who had committed more serious crimes.

Despite the misdemeanor bail reform’s reported positive effect on the community, there have been public claims of the reform leading to an increase in homicides. While officials said there has been an increase in homicides in Harris County, the report presented by the monitors found no correlation between the misdemeanor bail reform and the increase in homicides. The report did not address felonies.

JAD officials presented key takeaways from the ODonnell Independent Monitor Report, which detailed how numbers of misdemeanor arrests and issues related to the reform were generally good signs overall, although the pandemic caused some fluctuations.

"The number of misdemeanor charges and the number of people arrested for misdemeanors in Harris County noticeably fell in 2020—a year heavily affected by the pandemic—and rose slightly in 2021," the report stated.

Repeat misdemeanor offender arrests have remained largely stable between 2015 and 2021, JAD officials noted. There has been a steady decline in the number of misdemeanor arrestees who had new charges filed against them within one year. The report stated that number was 11,888 persons in 2015 and 8,647 persons in 2020.

Since the ODonnell Consent Decree was signed, the share of cases with bond hearings has fallen from 34% to 20% from 2018 to 2021. According to the report, this decline has generated an estimated $1.1 million in savings.

The pretrial detention rate also decreased, starting at 68% in 2016 and declining to 43% in 2021. With this decrease came a reduction in total jail costs totaling $3.6 million, officials reported. Savings were also increased for arrestees over this time, adding up to $319 million. Reported factors contributing to this include the decrease in earning loss, loss of partner benefits and child support, and the eliminated safety risk of being incarcerated.

Moving forward, the monitorship will gather data to provide a more detailed cost analysis and break down the financial consequences of policy changes under the consent decree. They will also examine prosecution costs, pretrial supervision and other measures as well as continue to gather and present data analyses to the commissioners court.

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