Harris County Commissioners Court voted to approve a settlement to overhaul the county’s bail system. The price tag ranges from $59 million to $97 million over seven years, and the county budget department expects to save $18,250 per defendant, per year because of the reforms.
In a state where roughly three of every four people in jail is accused, but not convicted of a crime, this is a massive shift in the way Harris County handles bail for low-level defendants. No matter which side you fall on, the impact it will have on defendants, victims, and taxpayers can’t be denied.
It’s estimated that taxpayers spent about $9 million in legal fees fighting the lawsuit that led to this outcome. The case was brought despite some of the reforms starting to be implemented under the county’s previous administration.
Here’s the thing, the settlement wasn’t without its issues: it was costly, the court rejected a move to include additional funds for victims as proposed by Commissioner Jack Cagle, and the reform package was made public just a few days before the vote. County Judge Lina Hidalgo pushed forward, nonetheless, ushering through what she called “one of the key civil rights issues of our time.”
Harris County’s approval means that now it’s up to a federal court to agree to the terms.