AUSTIN (KXAN) — Criminal justice reform took center stage at the Texas Capitol Wednesday afternoon. Lawmakers and advocates on both sides of the aisle are fighting to change what many call a broken bail system.
Gov. Greg Abbott deemed it a priority issue before session because of public safety, but criminal justice advocates worry laws moving forward right now unfairly target certain communities.
Laquita Garcia’s work in criminal justice reform stems from her own journey in the system.
One instance she recalls is when she was locked up for a shoplifting case.
“I found myself with a $30,000 bond because of my priors and immediately my thoughts were ‘I’m going to prison again,'” Garcia remembered.
But the single mother of three was adamant about her innocence. The truth came out months later.
“I was able to get before the judge and was found not guilty of the charge, but that was after I sat in jail serving the sentence of a year for a crime I didn’t commit,” Garcia said.
She doesn’t think someone’s freedom should be based on their ability to pay.
Ken W. Good, bail attorney and board member with the Professional Bondsmen of Texas, said he is seeing more people failing to appear in court and less accountability.
“We don’t want any system taking advantage of the poor, but we don’t want to set up a new system where the criminals are taking advantage of the criminal justice system,” Good said.
State lawmakers want to target “habitual and violent” offenders through SB 21, which was heard on the senate floor on Wednesday. It passed in the Texas Senate on Thursday.
A summary of the bill states it is “relating to rules for fixing the amount of bail, to the release of certain defendants on a bail bond or personal bond, to related duties of certain officers taking bail bonds and of a magistrate in a criminal case, to charitable bail organizations, and to the reporting of information pertaining to bail bonds.”
“It requires consideration of criminal history whether the offense involves violence, whether it is violence against law enforcement officers, past failures to appear and other important risk factors,” explained Sen. Joan Huffman, the bill’s author.
Bail reform advocates said the legislation targets the poor, people of color and low-risk offenders.
They are pushing for what they say is a more comprehensive approach, with HB 2077. Supporters said it addresses both felony and misdemeanor charges.
“We feel [it] will greatly lower the number of folks who are in jail right now simply because they cannot pay bail,” explained Robert Williams, founder of Alliance For A New Justice System. “We definitely want to protect the public, but we also want to address this huge issue of disparities in the system.”