In current reelection campaign ads, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tries to bolster his artificial “law-and-order” bona fides with assertions that he stopped dangerous criminal predators from being released from jail through a “cashless” bail system. The campaign ad is vintage Greg Abbott—”all hat and no cattle.”


Governor’s Bail Reform Acts Offers Little Reform


On September 21, 2021, Abbott signed into law the Damon Allen Act—a “bail reform” act, as the Governor likes to call it, that prevents individuals charged with violent crimes from being released from jail without posting cash bail. In other words, the Governor doesn’t mind if accused violent offenders are released from jail so long as they put up the money through a bondsman to secure release.


To garner as much political support possible from the law-and-order community, Abbott signed the law into effect at the Texas Pastor Council’s Safer Houston Summit at which he leveled vintage Abbott criticism of the Harris County, and Houston in particular, bail system:


“There been a revolving jailhouse door because of lax bail policies and here in Harris County more so than any other place I’ve seen in the state of Texas … {Houstonians are] facing a crisis that’s a consequence of having elected a lot of judges in Harris County who ran as Democrat socialists. These Democrat socialist judges, they believe in letting people out of jail as opposed to keeping them in jail. That’s why you have more criminals, convicted criminals, who are back out on the street endangering public safety.”


It is clear that Abbott staged the signing event not as a legitimate gubernatorial concern for public safety but rather as a politically opportunistic event to attack what he calls Democrat socialism. The Governor’s blatant political misrepresentation of Texas Democrats and a typically intellectually dishonest indictment of the Harris County voters, who elected what the Governor called “socialist judges,” is vintage Abbott nonsense.


Cash Bail System Favors Rich and Bail Bond Industry


The reality of the Texas “cash bail” system is an entrenched, politically corrupt institution that favors white defendants, like Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (the Governor’s criminally-charged right-hand man, who remains on pretrial release pending felony fraud charges). While this system favors the “haves,” it penalizes people of color from Black and Brown communities who cannot afford cash bonds. 


Legitimate bail reform groups, like the Bail Project and the ACLU of Texas, have roundly criticized the Governor’s Damon Allen Act as just another political tool to further institutionalize the systemic racism rooted in the entire Texas criminal justice system.


There is one consistent thing about the truth: you can continuously lie about it, as Gov. Abbott makes a political practice of doing, but the facts of the truth will always prevail.


Studies Confirm Sensible Bail Reform Works


 A newly-released bail reform study by the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania, a national research and study group trying to improve the nation’s criminal justice system, found that “bail reform” measures implemented in Houston five years ago as part of a federal “consent decree” are successfully working—and its success has nothing to do with Gov. Abbott’s Damon Allen Act.


The study, released on August 16, 2022, shows that since the consent decree took place, there has been a 13 percent increase in the number of offenders released within 24 hours of arrest and “a 6 % decrease in new prosecutions over the three years following arrest, indicating that releasing these defendants doesn’t increase recidivism …” As  Bloomberg News touted, these bail reform measures reduce jail time and crime.


The Harris County Courts, the ones Gov. Abbott falsely accused of being “leftist socialists,” issued a press release on September 1, 2022, outlining the study’s key findings. Those findings are:


  • Misdemeanor pretrial reform produced more lenient outcomes and reduced the system’s imprint without adversely impacting public safety.
  • Increasing pretrial release rates did not substantially impede the resolution of cases, although there were some modest impacts.
  • Expanding pretrial release under the O’Donnell injunction did not fuel a spike in crime, as some have claimed. 


Earlier this year, in January, the Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A&M University also reported on the results of the Harris County settlement in O’Donnell v. Harris County, which resulted in the county’s entire bail system being declared unconstitutional. Those findings are:


  • Since pretrial reform, misdemeanor guilty pleas have declined, and fewer defendants re-offend within a year of arrest, even as more are released into the community while they await trial.
  • Changes in judicial policies have produced a stunning drop in the financial value of misdemeanor bonds set by courts. The total amount asked of defendants for pretrial release has fallen from $135 million in 2015 to $13 million in 2020.
  • Defendants paid bond companies over $4.4 million in 2016. But since 2018, bail bond companies earned less than $1 million annually on low-level misdemeanor cases.
  • Four of every ten people booked are mentally ill, homeless, or both. Vulnerable populations need to be considered in designing programs that prevent bond failure and recidivism.
  • The one percent of defendants with the longest pretrial jail stays are disproportionately mentally ill or homeless and have holds, warrants, and/or assaultive charges. Yet, after months in detention, the majority of these cases end in dismissal or acquittal. Future analyses will seek to understand and address barriers to release and how to resolve these cases more efficiently.


So who do we believe: Gov. Greg Abbott or Texas A&M and the Quattrone Center? 


These studies give the public facts, not politically motivated alternative facts the Texas governor has a propensity for giving to the public.


Greg Abbott has absolutely no concern that 55 people died in the Harris County Jail between 2009 and 2015 because they could not afford to make bond as his political cohort, criminally accused Attorney General Paxton was able to do in 2015.


Let us say this to the Governor loud and clear: the bottom line is that the so-called Harris County “socialist judges” have given Houstonians a safer, cheaper, and racially fairer bail system than the extremist bail measures constantly pushed by Gov. Abbott.