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Dallas's Potential Algorithm for Bail Bonds: What You Need to Know

 Posted on May 05, 2019 in Bail Bonds

The heated debate around Dallas' bail bond system has been an ongoing issue for several years now. After a series of lawsuits (and counter-lawsuits), both Dallas and Harris County are finding themselves torn in the middle of an inconclusive back-and-forth—a limbo, if you will. Today, Dallas lawmakers and county officials are planning to implement a new system; one that strikes a balance between our current bail process and one that eliminates bail for detainees considered 'flight risks,' or a 'danger to society.'

For context, Governor Greg Abbott introduced the Damon Allen Act in 2018, named after a Texas State Trooper who was gunned down by a violent criminal recently released on bail. Because the murderer's previous charges included assault of a deputy sheriff, the crime's controversial nature prompted Texas lawmakers to propose limiting bail options to specific, non-violent individuals.

While this particular bill is still being debated, one thing is certain: the algorithm-based system determining who can get a bail bond—which other counties and states already use—is likely a big part of Dallas's future. Here are a few things you need to know about this system, and why it's a big deal.

RELATED: The Damon Allen Act: 2019 Bail Reform in Texas?

Algorithm-based System vs. Current System

Dallas's current system relies on a fixed bail bond scale; for example, a class A misdemeanor carries a maximum fine potential of $4,000, in which a particular bond will be set based on that criteria. While a judge can set a bond with discretion, it's typically within the fixed rate. This means regardless of class or income, an inmate must pay a certain amount of money—based on their crime—in order to post bail.

The proposed algorithm-based system relies on an entirely different scale (if you even call it that). Instead of a fixed rate based on the crime, the new system—called the Public Safety Assessment (PSA)—determines whether or not an individual can even have that option. The PSA includes various bits of information on the individual, such as:

  • Where they grew up
  • Whether or not they graduated high school
  • Where they live now

However, the main factors the PSA uses when determining who can or can't bail out of jail consist of the following:

  • The full criminal history of the individual
  • Any pending charges
  • Age at the time of arrest

The Public Safety Assessment is controversial in and of itself due to many factors. For instance, civil rights attorneys and activists claim the system is not only racially prejudiced, but targets low-income communities.

Discrimination Against Minorities

Previously, similar systems used in other states have been shown to discriminate against racial minorities—particularly, black minorities. In 2016, ProPublica showed a county in Florida—which uses a similar algorithm-based system—to disproportionately target black detainees and inmates. ProPublica is an organization aiming to expose injustice and abuse of power through investigative journalism, and revealed this Florida county to use controversial data, such as income, against their inmates.

However, the creators of PSA deny using any such data; the founder, Houston-based Laura and John Arnold Foundation, claims it solely relies on relevant data pertaining to the criminal likelihood of an inmate, and not their social class.

RELATED: Wrongfully Accused: A Real Problem Bail Can Help Solve

Flaws in the System

In addition to discriminatory flaws, the Public Safety Assessment may not actually be much safer either. In fact, on two separate occasions—in two different states—where the PSA is used, the system recommended both judges release inmates who then committed murder just days later. Duane Chapman, from popular TV series Dog the Bounty Hunter, weighed in with a statement after one of the instances in New Jersey.

'[This system is] a hug-a-thon campaign [that is] killing people.'

Duane Chapman, Dog the Bounty Hunter

In California, where the other instance took place, a state official actually claimed to have 'entered incorrect data' that resulted in the incident, revealing major flaws in the new system. In fact, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation claim the same thing; an executive of the organization claims the system will ultimately yield 'unfortunate cases' in which violent criminals are released and commit more crimes, but that a 'risk-based system is better' than Dallas's current money-based bail system.

How Much Time Before Dallas Adopts PSA?

According to Dallas County officials, the new system can go into effect in as early as one year from now. However, some argue Dallas may still continue using its current bail practices despite the new system—when it comes to ensuring individuals come back for their court dates, that is.

Officials in Dallas County claim individuals deemed a high risk of fleeing or skipping court most likely return when they post bail; an observation made simply by observing Houston. In fact, Harris County—which uses this algorithm-based system—lost almost half of their defendants who never showed up for court. In contrast, under the current bail bond system, the no-show rate for defendants (who use a bail bond service) averages at only 8 percent.

RELATED: Why No Showing Your Court Date Is a Horrible Idea

The Future for Bail Bond Companies

Currently, there are hundreds—if not thousands—of bail bond companies and owners in the Dallas area. With the future of the bail bond industry up in the air, thousands of families may soon be left without a business—and an income. While Dallas may continue to use its current bail practices for certain situations, the harsh reality of wiping out an entire industry is still a major concern for thousands of Dallas residents.

Not only are business owners affected, but inmates and their families also face major loss; under Dallas's current system, inmates still have the opportunity to improve their situation—and ultimately, their future—by having the option to post bail. Additionally, they're more likely to return for their court dates under the cash system; which Harris County shows not to be the case under the new system. It is taking too long to move people to county and with out local judges providing bail the system will fail. County courts are not equipped to handle the volume of criminal cases so not only does the county have issues but the people who are in the criminal courts are not being provided due process. 

To learn more about the benefits of using a bail bond service, visit Doc's Bail Bonds—Dallas's fastest, most reliable bail bonds service.

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