The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis filed an amicus brief in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas in support of a preliminary injunction to immediately halt Harris County’s practice of jailing people charged with misdemeanors solely because they are unable to pay bail. The LDF/Ellis brief explains that Harris County’s bail structure “constitutes a blatant and unlawful penalty for poverty” that is not only unconstitutional, it has a disproportionately harmful effect on Black, poor and disadvantaged Harris County 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 LDF/Ellis brief was filed in support of ODonnell v. Harris County, a lawsuit that seeks an immediate end to the practice of wealth-based detention of people charged with misdemeanors in Harris County. Because Harris County bail determinations are made based on a predetermined schedule that does not account for ability to pay bail and does not offer a timely opportunity to address inability to pay bail, poor people charged with misdemeanors are held in jail solely because they are unable to pay bail.
“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.”