Texans Still Being Jailed On Traffic Tickets

January 24, 2019 by

Grits for Breakfast, Texas’ leading criminal justice reform blog, has a new report out analyzing data from the Office of Court Administration finding that more than a half-million Texans satisfied their traffic-ticket violations through jail credit.

“In 2018, according to office of Court Administration data, 524,628 people satisfied Class C misdemeanor fines and fees through jail credit,” wrote Grits’ Scott Henson.

Henson goes on to explain that even with legislation passed last session that gave judges more discretion over handing out punishments to indigent defendants, like options for community service over a fine, only 53,773 indigent defendants had fines waived in 2018 and 97,260 avoided fines by doing community service.

“The OCA provided no data on how long those getting ‘jail credit’ were incarcerated. Grits thinks a reasonable estimated average may be two days. Most people will only be in jail one day, but some will be in much longer, with jail credit satisfying their fines at a statutory rate of $100/day.”

With an average 2-day stay, incarceration for misdemeanors cost taxpayers about $63 million last year, says Henson. It’s far more expensive to incarcerate low-level misdemeanor offenders than it is to allow them to fulfill their fines and fees via community service or some combination thereof.

Last session there were bills filed to prevent arrests for low level crimes like this, known as non-jailable offenses. A study from the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition around that time found that 11% of arrests over a 16-week period were for non-jailable offenses.

Since the legislature has so far failed to act, Austin City Council passed a resolution to try to limit these arrests. Also, calls from activists in both parties have continued to grow asking for the legislature to address the issue. At both Texas Democratic and Republican conventions over the summer delegates passed resolutions to support banning this practice.

With the legislature just getting underway, there will undoubtedly be a renewed effort to see this practice stop for both the benefit of defendants and taxpayers.

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About the Author

Charles operates the Houston office for Empower Texans/Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.