Wealth-based jail detention under fire

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) and Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis are trying to stop Harris County’s practice of jailing people charged with misdemeanors solely because they are unable to pay bail.

The LDF/Ellis brief – filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas –d claims that Harris County’s bail structure “constitutes a blatant and unlawful penalty for poverty” that is not only unconstitutional, but has a disproportionately harmful effect on Black, poor and disadvantaged residents.

“Justice cannot depend on how much money you have in the bank,” Ellis said. “But poor people all across Houston – Texans who are supposed to be presumed innocent – far too often get second-class justice just because they can’t afford to pay bail. Harris County’s abusive system privileges the privileged and punishes the poor. This discriminatory bail system is an affront to justice and must end now.”

The brief was filed in support of O’Donnell v. Harris County, a lawsuit that seeks an immediate end to the practice of wealth-based detention of people charged with misdemeanors.

“The constitution applies equally to the rich and the poor,” said Christina Swarns, director of litigation for LDF. “So no one should lose their freedom, their job, and/or their home just because they don’t have the money to pay bail for a minor offense.”