Bail reform: A slap in the face to victims and survivors

https://www.tribtalk.org/2018/06/19/bail-reform-a-slap-in-the-face-to-victims-and-survivors/

Bail reform: A slap in the face to victims and survivors

By , June 19, 2018

Photo by Daniel Schwen/Creative Commons

I go to work each day to protect our nation’s most vulnerable — our children. As president of Stop Child Predators, it’s my job to educate families on sexual assault prevention and to stem the tide of dangerous trends that allow predators to roam our streets and commit such grotesque crimes in the first place.

That’s why I am surprised that proponents of bail reform are calling for changes that will make it easier for criminals to get out of jail and recommit crimes in Texas, a state that has historically remained “tough on crime.”

Bail reform, while being sold as a solution to help poor people, would significantly undercut public safety by eliminating cash bail and implementing risk assessment tools in its place.

The risk assessment tools used to decide who should be jailed are the equivalent of a magic eight ball. These tools often do not consider any history of criminal offenses outside of Texas, and the results are often kept secret from the public.

Studies have shown these algorithms do not reduce recidivism, do not reduce failure to appear, and do not reduce jail populations. Additionally, these tools are largely unproven, unreliable, and racially biased. Yet, many in Texas wrongly believe them to be a solution for freeing poor people who cannot afford to post bail — even though these tools are not designed to determine who is or is not poor.

Like many Texans, I share these concerns for the poor. But the substitution of a magic eight ball for the judgment of seasoned, elected judges raises public safety concerns.

These reformers are not taking into account the impact bail reform will have on victims of sexual assault, especially child victims of sexual assault. The silence has been deafening. Bail reform has resulted in widespread release of defendants without bail and without consequence, raising alarming questions about public safety.

I speak with victims’ families on a daily basis. I know firsthand that victims of crime need assurance that their abusers will be held accountable in court. In Harris County, which is ground zero for Texas’ bail reform efforts, a whopping 43 percent of those mandated by a recent court order to be released without bail failed to reappear for court. Why? Because there is no way to hold these criminals accountable.

Victims of sexual assault, more than other crime victims, are often too afraid to come forward. They are unable to speak up about something so very personal and horrific. When victims do come forward, their courage is eviscerated when the defendant is released — without consequence — into the community and then fails to appear for court. This is made worse if the defendant commits another crime, becoming what law enforcement officers call a “frequent flier” offender.

Put yourself in a victim’s shoes and imagine living in a world where your offender is out of jail, roaming the streets with absolutely no accountability and little supervision from law enforcement.

This is not the type of environment we want to create for victims.

Holding abusers accountable is the cornerstone of our justice system, and it’s vital to victims’ healing processes.

Bail bond agents hold defendants accountable, encourage them to stay out of trouble, and ensure they show up to court on the appropriate date. Bond agents have a good track record of ensuring those awaiting trial are returned to court. While 43 percent of defendants released under the judge’s order failed to appear in Harris County, only 5 percent of those released under traditional bond agents failed to appear, and those subject to bonds are being tracked and returned to court.

Counties across Texas are now looking to follow in Harris County’s footsteps by releasing more defendants without bail, even in circumstances where defendants have failed to reappear for court before.

Doing away with the bail system would be an enormous blow to victims and put public safety at risk. Similar policies are already creating a revolving door of criminals in Texas jails, allowing defendants to skip out on court, traumatize their victims and commit new offenses.

It’s time to consider the rights of victims. Proper use of bail as defined currently under Texas law assures that defendants return to court so that victims’ voices may be heard. Sacrificing public safety isn’t the answer.

Texans must act, and act now to encourage officials to say no to bail reform.

Stacie Rumenap

President, Stop Child Predators

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