One of the things that makes Texas famous is its proclivity to incarcerate people. However, the vast majority of people in the Lone Star State’s jails are legally innocent.
A recent article in the Texas Observer parsed data from the Texas Public Policy Foundation and found that three out of every four inmates in Texas’ county jails are “pretrial” inmates, meaning they have not yet been convicted of any crime. However, inmates cannot leave until someone pays their bail, which is often too high for most working-class Texans to afford.
While bail can vary depending on the state in which someone was arrested, the charge they’ve been given, and the inmate’s past arrest history, bail for even just a misdemeanor charge can amount to as much as $1,000, according to Human Rights Watch. Given the fact that 40 percent of Americans can’t afford an emergency $400 expense, this means that many arrestees will have no choice but to sit in jail.
2014 data from the Texas Public Policy Foundation found that there were an estimated 154,000 inmates in the state’s jail system, When using the foundation’s calculations that housing one inmate costs $50.79 per day (or $18,538 per year), and assuming the foundation’s estimate of 75 percent of county inmates are in the pretrial stage of their cases is correct, this means that Texans are paying more than $2 billion each year to house pretrial inmates. This essentially amounts to a taxpayer subsidy of the bail bondsman industry.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) recently introduced a bill to end cash bail for federal inmates while creating various incentives for states to end cash bail of their own accord. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has also ended cash bail for low-level offenses like marijuana possession, shoplifting, and resisting arrest. Should Texas also end the practice of cash bail, it would likely save taxpayers billions of dollars while vacating jail cells.
Nick Jewell is a freelance political writer, and a proud resident of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Email him at email@example.com.