The American Civil Liberties Union this week announced it had filed a lawsuit against Dallas County, accusing it of violating the constitutional rights of people arrested on misdemeanors and certain felonies, echoing issues the organization has raised in Galveston County.

The ACLU of Texas on Monday said it had filed a class action lawsuit in federal court against Dallas County and the Dallas County sheriff, judges and magistrates. Civil Rights Corps and the Texas Fair Defense Project jointly filed the lawsuit with the ACLU.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of six plaintiffs, accuses officials in Dallas County of operating a “two-tiered system of justice based on wealth, in violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

“No person should be kept in a cage just because she doesn’t have enough money to make a payment,” said Civil Rights Corps attorney Elizabeth Rossi.

“The decision to throw a person who is presumed innocent in a jail cell is a serious one. And a person’s access to money should not be the only factor that determines whether she is free or is in jail.”

The challenge centers on Dallas County’s system of money bail, which the ACLU asserts results in people accused of misdemeanor and felony crimes, and not determined to be dangerous or a flight risk, but who cannot afford bail, to sit in jail indefinitely awaiting trial, while others who have financial means are released before trial.

Inmates are legally entitled to a presumption of innocence, but studies show the cash bail system effectively forces guilty pleas and results in longer jail and prison sentences for poor people, according to lawyers for the ACLU, Civil Rights Corps and Texas Fair Defense Project.

Supporters of cash bonds argue the financial aspect of bail encourages people accused of crimes to show up for court. The ACLU challenges that claim. Research on criminal justice systems demonstrates money bail does not improve public safety nor court appearance rates, ACLU attorneys argue.

The lawsuit is a continuation of efforts to end money-based bail detention practices in Texas and across the country for low-level crimes, the ACLU said. The organization filed a similar lawsuit against Harris County. The lawsuit led a federal judge in April to rule that county’s bail bond practices unconstitutional and order certain reforms.

For months, a staff attorney with the ACLU has been in contact with Galveston County officials about concerns the organization has with the county’s justice system and pretrial detention practices of people accused of nonviolent offenses, according to county records.

In November, ACLU staff attorney Trisha Trigilio in a letter to the county called for a more urgent response to addressing concerns about the legal system, most notably the pretrial release system.

The organization requested the county make several changes, including having magistrates release inmates accused of nonviolent misdemeanors or state jail felony charges, such as drug possession, on cheaper personal bonds.

An ACLU of Texas media contact could not be reached Tuesday for questions about the status of its work in Galveston County.

County Judge Mark Henry said the county has not spoken with the ACLU in about two months. But if changes aren’t made to the county’s criminal justice system, Henry anticipated the ACLU might file a similar lawsuit against Galveston County, he said. The county was trying to fend that off by making changes to the bail system, he said.

“We’ve been trying to be proactive in getting ahead of it and make the changes they know they’re going to get either by us voluntarily complying or by court order,” Henry said.

Some changes have been made to increase the frequency of magistration and to allow some defendants be released and pay personal bonds as court fees assessed later instead of upfront, Henry said.

And a council of various officials involved in the county’s criminal justice system is being formed to look at changes for the county, he said. A meeting date for the council has not yet been set, he said.

“It’s not as quick as I would like, but there is progress,” Henry said. “We agreed to form a council to address the things the ACLU wants to see done.”

Reviews of the county’s criminal justice system by various organizations noted pratices those organizations saw as problems in the system.

For instance, about 70 percent of people in the Galveston County jail are being held before going to trial presumably because they cannot afford bail, Henry said. Many times, the charge is later dropped, Henry said.

“I rarely agree with the ACLU, but I agree with them on this, because these people are charged, they haven’t been found guilty,” Henry said.

The reforms are extended to nonviolent offenders who are not a flight or public safety risk, he said.

The lawsuit against Dallas County was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

Marissa Barnett: 409-683-5257; marissa.barnett@galvnews.com

Senior Reporter

(5) comments

PD Hyatt

So according to the Anti-Christian League Union when ever there is a lawbreaker arrested the police should just turn them lose so that they can continue to commit murder and mayhem.... Wow.... Are the people really going to bow down to these fools and their foolish ideas? All that will do is put people back on the streets that are very dangerous and let them get started one more time.... I bet the ACLU pukes go back to their gated communities where they won't be bothered by lawbreakers that they seem to love so much.... What a sad state our society is becoming as the progressives continue to push their perverted ways upon this nation....

Gary Miller

If criminals are let back on the streets they will commit more crimes. ACLU will use more crimes to lobby for more money for criminal justice system.If the bail system is unfair the solution is doing away with it entirely. No bail, no release for rich or poor. Speed up courts by not letting lawyers drag out procedings by asking for and getting delays. Delays are lawyers way of increasing cost to clients.

David Doe

People that commit crimes are put in "Jail". It happens to people of all color and All wealth. Problem is, more people of color and of poverty commit crimes. If you have to post a "Bond" and you have no job or way to show financial responsibility, then you are going to face difficulty. This isn't anyone's fault in the system, but the aclu is trying to make it so. We are living in a society where "No", no longer means "No". It means argue and see if you can get something more. We've already given people with less money free food, free housing and a place at the top of the ladder as far as college enrollment goes. Giving criminals that either can't post a "Bond" because they are poor or have poor credit or previous records (and can't be trusted) is a JOKE!
If you can't do the Time, Don't do the Crime! Finally, we have a SCOTUS that is going to begin to roll back some of the egregious welfare!

Dwight Burns

So it is your belief that poor people and people of color commit more crimes. Well, the exact opposite is true.
Before posting racist crap like that, at least do constructive research supporting your belief.

Jim Forsythe

The Judge knows if we do not address this issue, we will not be in compliance. Non -compliance could cost us big time.
County Judge Mark Henry. 
"For instance, about 70 percent of people in the Galveston County jail are being held before going to trial presumably because they cannot afford bail, Henry said. Many times, the charge is later dropped, Henry said.“I rarely agree with the ACLU, but I agree with them on this, because these people are charged, they haven’t been found guilty,” Henry said. The reforms are extended to nonviolent offenders who are not a flight or public safety risk, he said."
Bail is a pledge that they will show up to trial and required court appearances. Bail is not to punish, as they have not been convicted.
"Bail is money or some form of property that is deposited or pledged to a court, in order to secure the release from custody or jail of a suspect who has been arrested, with the understanding that the suspect will return for their trial and required court appearances."

By having a bail system that set the bail higher then a person can pay, we are increasing the numbers in our jail. Several people that stay in jail because they can not meet the bail, lose their jobs which increase the numbers that need assistance.. 
Overcrowding of our jail, is getting to the point we will be forced to address it. To be fair, most reports about our jail have said that about 150 could be released on a program to get more on release programs, with restrictions, such as a monitor system.
"The cost of incarcerating a person far outweighs the cost of an ankle monitor and house arrest. Putting a person in prison can cost over $20,000 a year, while house arrest only costs about $6,000 per year. . The Wearer Has To Help Pay For The Privilege of an Ankle Monitor."
 $56  is a state average in the cost per person in jail per day. In the story from the GDN they said it is closer to $70 a day in Galveston.
If we do not reduce the numbers, we will have to address overcrowding. It shows we have 1165 inmates today.(December 2017) and
 as of today Jan.24, 2018, 883 inmates  are at the jail.
http://p2c.co.galveston.tx.us/jailinmates.aspx

We are running out of room , and if we do not decrease the numbers, we will have to increase the capacity. ( 1,187-bed facility)
The Daily News . Oct 15, 2016 
Inmates nearly filled the 1,187-bed facility last week, prompting corrections officers to seek space at neighboring county jails.The jail opened a decade ago as part of a nearly $100 million project, including the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office, Galveston Police Department and Justice Center, which houses the county’s courts. The county built the jail to hold about 1,200 inmates.Architects designed the building to potentially double in size to a capacity of 2,400, howeverJail construction is expensive. Construction companies would likely charge at least $400 a square foot.
http://www.galvnews.com/news/article_7075a9c8-648b-5105-bd5e-53ee0f472f57.html

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