The Texas House has just passed The Damon Allen Act, a bail reform bill that has undergone recent changes before being passed to the Senate. House Bill 2020 is just one of several steps taken to reform bail after officer Damon Allen was killed in 2017 by a repeat-offender out on bond.
Since 2017, bail reform has been a heavily debated issue in Texas politics. Some Texas lawmakers have called for bail reform as a response to jail practices and pre-trial processes, as well as jail deaths. However, many concerns over the new bail reform bill prompted amendments and changes to HB-2020.
How Bail Reform Affects Texas Inmates
A recent addition to the Damon Allen Act has raised concerns and calls for removal. Eventually, Texas lawmakers removed the last-minute amendment before passing the bill on to the Senate.
According to advocates, the last-minute addition would have actually prevented many inmates from getting out of jail. Additionally, it would have affected the rights of Texas inmates in jail without a trial. This rose state-wide concern over inmates’ rights. Inmates’ rights advocates called for Texas lawmakers to remove the amendment before passing it, and they did. In fact, State Representative Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth is the reason the harmful amendment to the bail reform bill was removed.
“Adding that amendment from yesterday does not fit in line to what the purpose of this bill was for. We want to promote the release of these nonviolent defendants who are low income, and not let dangerous people who can afford to pay for bail out.” —Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth
Texas Bail Reform
Although House Bill 2020 is just one of many measures taken to reform the bail bond industry, it’s the most significant. The authors of the bill, State Representative Kyle Kacal, R-College Station and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, worked together to push bail reform measures. However, the bill has changed significantly since it was first filed in March.
One of these changes is taking the power of determining bail from the governor’s office to the judiciary. A spokesperson for Greg Abbott did not respond to repeated requests for a statement, despite numerous attempts.
How Bail Reform Can Harm Texas Inmates
Currently, an inmate’s bail is determined by the crime and the criminal history of the defendant. In order to be released from jail, defendants must either get a bail bond of pay their bail in full. A bail bond costs only 10 percent of the total bail, which allows inmates to get out of jail affordably.
However, bail reform is different. While the bail reform bill technically states that it wants low-risk people to get out of jail, that doesn’t apply to everyone. In fact, the bail reform bill will ensure certain inmates don’t have the ability to get out of jail at all. The bail reform bill’s risk assessment tool analyzes each individual’s “risk-level” and uses that to decide whether or not they can get out of jail.
According to Greg Abbott, it should be “as difficult as possible for dangerous people to get out of jail.” While this sounds fine in theory, it can potentially result in unjust detainment practices. The risk assessment tool is feared to promote bias and discrimination, upholding current stereotypes.
Problems With Bail Reform
The imperfect risk assessment system has prompted concern from advocates and lawmakers alike. Many state it will result in biased results towards people of color. Advocacy groups claim that the risk assessment tool’s analysis of criminal history may end up perpetuating racial inequalities within the criminal justice system.
However, a recent amendment to the bill states that the risk assessment tool must “prove” it is unbiased. Additionally, the amendment allows counties to fix or modify the tool should any issues or concerns arise.
The Possibly Flawed Risk Assessment Tool
Criminal justice advocacy group The Texas Fair Defense Project has repeatedly raised concerns over the risk assessment tool stated in the bail reform bill. According to them, the risk assessment system would actually keep judges from releasing many misdemeanor defendants.
Damon Allen, a Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper, was murdered in 2017. He was killed by a defendant who was out on a $15,500 bond. His prior crime was assault of a sheriff’s deputy. Kacal and Abbott named the bail reform bill after him.
The Texas House passed The Damon Allen Act by an 83-to-51 vote. The bill will now move to the Senate for consideration.