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Inside Scoop: What it's Really Like Inside Lew Sterrett

 Posted on November 12, 2019 in County Jails

Doc's Bail Bonds

Are the conditions in Dallas County jails really all that grueling? 

Lew Sterrett Justice Center is one of Dallas County's largest jails, otherwise known as the gloomy compound sitting alongside Trinity River. Constructed in 1993, it's a relative eyesore on the river. And in January of last year, Shannon Daves, a homeless and unemployed resident in Dallas County, found herself trapped inside. Without the money to pay for her $500 bail for alleged shoplifting from Macy's, she had to wait out her unconvicted sentence behind the bars of Lew Sterrett. 

Daves described the path she went on to the local ACLU during her time of arrest in Lew Sterrett. Needless to say, it wasn't pretty.

Lew Sterrett's Living Conditions

When Daves arrived in jail, she watched as some of her fellow inmates broke down within 24 to 48 hours. The jail restricted water usage to two toilet flushes per day and a 6 oz cup of water every few hours. Reflecting on her time in Lew Sterrett, Daves mused that the amount of water received didn't seem reasonable enough to expect inmates to be 'ok'. 

The Bleak Bail-Setting Process

Shortly after Daves arrived at the jail, she began moving through the process of setting bail. Daves had one of two options – either she made bail or she didn't. 'Bail' refers to the conditions that must be met for a person to be released from jail pre-trial. Some magistrates decide on an ankle monitor while others opt for random drug tests. 

But today, the term 'bail' refers solely to 'money bail', the most widespread type of bail in the United States. In most states, anyone who is arrested must pay their assigned bail, which ranges from a few hundred dollars to over $10 million. The higher the crime, the higher the bail. However, most people never pay the entire bail on the spot; they'll usually call a bail bondsman and pay 10% to get the job done. The bondsman has to cover the rest of the amount or else the defendant will be arrested and forcibly brought to trial. 

Confusion and Concealment Inside Lew Sterrett

Daves Bail is set behind the scenes at Lew Sterrett, where defendants are not allowed to speak or stand during the wait. Magistrates are allowed factor in circumstances and whether a person can or cannot pay their bail amount, but most set bail on the bail schedule. If a person doesn't have the cash, the bail system still reigns, and the defendants often find themselves and confused and wondering what they can do next. Some are even ignorant (like Thompson and Daves) as to why they were arrested in the first place and how long they can expect to be in jail. 

Defendants Who Plead Guilty to Get Out of Jail

Defendants who cannot pay bail presumably can't leave until their first court date, which is often months in advance. Pleading guilty to charges results in an immediate release, so many plead guilty just to get back out on the streets. Contesting the charges means getting a longer wait in jail. Daves complained that her time in solitary (being isolated from the group for her transgender status) was so 'unnerving' that after a while, anyone could be expected to lose their minds.

The ACLU and Daves vs. Dallas County

Daves left her experience at Lew Sterrett four days later but became the unexpected plaintiff in a lawsuit against Dallas County. The Civil Rights Corps, ACLU, and Texas Fair Defense Project all joined forces and enlisted Daves along with five other plaintiffs to sue Dallas County for the constitutionality of the cash bail system. As a disadvantaged homeless person who was caught in the crossfires, Daves made the ideal plaintiff for the ACLU.

About 70% of 5,000 inmates held in the Dallas County Jail Daves saw weren't in jail because they were convicted of a crime, but for not paying bail. Dallas County currently pays tens of millions of dollars every year to hold arrestees inside Lew Sterrett, some of whom haven't heard why they've been detained, to begin with.

The lawsuit wants to make sure that people without the money can still get out of jail the same day regardless of the charges against them.

Overall, the plaintiffs who ‘survived' Lew Sterrett's rather confusing and slow-moving jail system claim that cash bail was the key factor in their lengthened stay, and that cash bail primarily affects the poor and disadvantaged. Daves vs. Dallas County was filed in January 2018. With current district attorney John Crezuot who fully endorses bail reform, judges have already decided to practice individual bail-setting in cases across the county. It remains to be seen how far bail reform in Dallas will go.

Doc's Bail Bonds is a Dallas-based bail bond company whose agents are available 24/7 to answer any questions you may have about the process and help your loved ones get out of jail as quickly as possible. For a beloved and trusted name in Bail Bonds, call Doc's for your bail-out today.

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