A recent poll by the Pretrial Justice Institute, Right on Crime, and Texas Appleseed shows that an overwhelming number of Texans are ready for major change in the state’s criminal justice system.
According to the poll, 90 percent of registered Texas voters are dissatisfied with the current system and 55 percent want “a complete overhaul or major change.” The poll also found that “81 percent of Texas registered voters believe the wealthy enjoy substantially better outcomes in the criminal justice than poor and working-class people.”
Respondents specified some of the solutions they’d like to see: community-based support systems over traditional money bail options, education and counseling services, and court reminders for those awaiting trial.
Texans’ support of pretrial reform and restorative services aligns with what criminal justice activists and researchers have long known: equipping an incarcerated person greatly improves their prospects for a reintegrated life after prison, especially given that most of those awaiting trial and even those convicted will return to their communities at some point.
It seems Texas voters are understanding that too. Currently, three Texas counties—Harris, Dallas, and Galveston—are being sued over their pretrial practices.
Marc Levin, Vice President of Criminal Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said it’s time to act on what Texans have clearly said.
“This poll shows that the overwhelming majority of Texans support changes to our pretrial policies that prioritize public safety, rather than a person’s ability to pay,” said Levin. “We have joined Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice in calling for sensible bail reforms and look forward to working with Texas lawmakers to deliver in the upcoming session on policy changes that advance public safety while protecting the constitutional rights to the presumption of innocence and due process.”
In Texas, nearly three-fourths of those in jail are awaiting their trial, meaning they have not been convicted of the charges levied against them. At the same time, pretrial incarceration is costing Texans $905 million annually.
Public pressure, rising costs, and looming lawsuits may force the legislature to act on the issue this upcoming session.