Will New Policy Reduce the Burden of Cash Bail?

February 14, 2020
Austin Chronicle

As we reported Feb. 7, last week the seven judges of the Travis County misdemeanor criminal courts issued a "Standing Order" to officially expand the use of "personal recognizance bonds" for people arrested in the county. In principle, the order ("effective immediately") would authorize those accused of most nonviolent offenses to be released on personal bonds (i.e., without cash bail). Personal bonds are essentially a written promise to return for court appointments or face sanctions for noncompliance. ("Travis Judges Loosen Misdemeanor Bond Requirements," Feb. 7).

On Tuesday, the county's Justice Plan­ning staff, District Attorney Margaret Moore, County Attorney David Escamilla, and others briefed the Commissioners Court on the background and details of the new policy – still a work in progress, in development over several years and relying on jail population research by county staff. Currently, an arrested person appears before a city magistrate following a case and risk assessment by the county Pretrial Services staff. In Travis County, most people accused of misdemeanors (about 71%) are already released on personal bonds. It's not immediately clear how many more may be eligible under the new policy, but the order sets formal standards for use by magistrates.