Officials in Harris County, Texas failed to seek the U.S. Supreme Court’s help in blocking a court ruling made by U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal, which cited the county’s unfair bail system to poor inmates.
The ruling will allow the release of several inmates from a Houston jail, following Justice Clarence Thomas’ rejection of the county’s request to reverse the court order. In April, Rosenthal permitted the release of the inmates on personal bond, as opposed to paying bail beyond their financial capacity.
Trial by Error
Rosenthal’s ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed in 2016. The case involved a woman, who was jailed for two days after she was unable to pay a $2,500 bail for driving without a valid license. Their argument focused on the county’s bail system discriminating against poor offenders that await trial.
The justice system considers bail depending on the context of different cases, such as those in Houston. A white-collar attorney, for instance, may argue the merits of a bail plea differently than how lawyers would do for violent crimes.
The issue of unfair bail for poor people not only exists in Harris County, but also nationwide. The problem has become quite serious as 450,000 people stay in jail cells each night due to their inability to pay bail, Karakatsanis added.
Despite the denied request, Harris County may still ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case. In the meantime, inmates will need to sign affidavits about their financial status prior to their release.
The ruling represented a progressive step for a fair justice system, especially for the poor. The county should focus on not granting bail to an inmate based on their deemed threat to public safety, instead of the financial status.