HOUSTON (FOX 26) - Far fewer inmates in the Harris County Jail and far fewer lives permanently disrupted by contact with the criminal justices system - two goals of reforms contained in a proposed settlement of the ongoing lawsuit challenging the Harris County bail system.
“It's going to mean a lot of people who are accused of misdemeanors are not going to have to sit in jail just because they can't afford bail,” said Mary Moreno of the Texas Organizing Project.
As first reported by the Houston Chronicle, the proposed settlement includes progressive components likely to spark controversy.
In an effort to drastically reduce the number of defendants arrested and incarcerated for failing to appear in court, the settlement proposes providing child care at courthouses, subsidized public transit and ride share services like Uber for court appearances, cell phones for indigent defendants and reduced penalties for those who fail to show court dates.
“We should help people be able to come to court and mount a vigorous defense to be able to be there to tell their side of a story to a judge,” said Moreno.
T.K. Koontz says contact with the criminal justice system left him jobless and nearly homeless. He's now advocating for systemic change.
“At the end of the day, nobody really wants to end up in jail and if you are given an opportunity to be responsible and take care of your business I think that people will utilize the opportunity and keep themselves out of jail,” said Koontz.
But bail bondsman and City Council Member Michael Kubosh says the proposed reforms go too far, too fast and will likely reduce public safety.
“They are just letting people out when they commit crimes and if they don't go to court, who is going to go chase them?” said Kubosh.