The Problem of “Secret Bail” In Texas
October 3, 2018
the majority of criminal proceedings are open to the public, allowing the people to hold the government accountable for its actions. The concept of fair and open proceedings helps to foster a relationship of trust and responsibility between the people and the government. Bail hearings in Dallas, Texas, however, are an exception.
Under its current system, all bail hearings in Dallas occur behind closed doors — people accused of crimes in Dallas County attend their hearings without the ability to have others such as journalists, lawyers, or family present, illustrating a complete lack of transparency in the Dallas County justice system. This lack of transparency inhibits democratic values from flourishing in the community and creates a distrust between the government and the people.
In Dallas County, hearings to determine whether someone goes free or is detained on bail are held in secrecy, and most last less than fifteen seconds.
The Marshall Project found that, in officially-released footage, the majority of the county’s bail hearings lasted less than fifteen seconds. Sending anybody to jail without hearing his or her case or asking about other factors such as the individual’s ability to pay discriminates against people experiencing poverty and strips them of their dignity. The most significantly impacted victims of Dallas’ money bail machine are those with low incomes; because they are unable to afford freedom, they remain in prison, negatively affecting their personal and professional lives. The numbers are shocking: The Marshall Project reports that “Of the roughly 5,000 people who populate the Dallas County jail on any given day, only 23 percent have managed to post bail so far this year”. The bail machine widens the dichotomy between those who can afford to pay their release and those who can’t; it allows the system to continue suppressing the rights of people who are poor by increasing the socioeconomic gap present in both society and the justice system.
“Of the roughly 5,000 people who populate the Dallas County jail on any given day, only 23 percent have managed to post bail so far this year”
Mustafa Mirza, The Marshall Project
Irrationally high bail amounts in Dallas County trap low-income arrestees into a cycle of poverty and incarceration. Moreover, The Marshall Project states that the head plaintiff in a recent lawsuit against Dallas County was “sent to 24-hour solitary confinement” simply because she couldn’t afford to post bail. A person’s freedom should not be carelessly determined in less than fifteen seconds. This practice is not only destructive to the United States’ inherent values of equal justice for all but also shameful to Dallas County’s justice system for devaluing a person’s liberty into nothing more than a statistic.
In January 2018, six plaintiffs represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and Civil Rights Corps have filed a suit against the county. Prior to the suit, arrestees were not given financial affidavits. The Marshall Project found that although Dallas County now provides financial affidavits for new arrestees to fill out and that the system changed in February to take into account a person’s financial resources, the bail amounts remain exorbitant. Additionally, hearings remain closed, leading to a disparity of information between the people and the government.
THE United States TOUTS ITSELF AS the Land of the Free, yet countless individuals still remain behind bars simply because they are too poor to pay for their release. Dallas County’s “secret bail machine” discredits the due process rights of people accused of crimes.
Putting a price tag on any of an individual’s inherent rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness corrupts the very principles by which our country was founded upon. Furthermore, continuing to hold bail hearings behind closed doors reveals an abuse of power within the Dallas County Justice System – a valuation of dollars and rapidity above the integrity and transparency of their operations.