SAN ANTONIO – The Bexar County court system is bracing for a new bail reform law that goes into effect Dec. 2.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 6, or the Damon Allen Act, on Monday. Allen was a state trooper who was murdered in 2017 by a man who was out on bond.
The law will ban the release of people accused of violent crimes on personal recognizance bonds, or PR bonds. It will now require defendants instead to post the amount of cash set by the court.
In Bexar County, where 80% of those arrested are indigent or a minority, it leads to a disproportionate law that affects only the poor. That’s something the Bexar County Public Defender’s Office sees as a huge problem since all its clients are indigent.
“The new bail reform bill is actually going to restrict judges on having discretion about who should and shouldn’t be released,” chief public defender Michael Young said. “It’s also frustrating local community efforts to secure the release of certain people and reduce our jail population.”
The Bexar County Jail population is already at capacity, according to administrative Judge Ron Rangel, and Senate Bill 6 could further increase current numbers.
“There’s a lot of other things we could do that would keep folks without means from essentially doing something that would cause them to go back into custody,” Rangel said.
Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales also has concerns with the law.
In a statement to KSAT 12, he said the bill does make some improvements but doesn’t address the problem inherent with cash bail.
“The release of a person from jail while they are awaiting trial on a criminal case should not be based on how much money that person has,” Gonzales said. “Instead, the decision to release should be based primarily on public safety. If dangerous people can be released because they have money, while poor people, presumed innocent, sit in jail for minor offenses, we still have a lot of work to do.”
Other concerns with the bill are restrictions on charitable bonds and how hard it will be for judges to issues PR bonds in certain cases.
“It’s why we elect judges,” Young said. “We trust them as local citizens to make decisions about who should and shouldn’t be released. This particular bill takes away that discretion.”
Rangel adds that despite the problems he sees with Senate Bill 6, it still provides more training opportunities on bail issues for judges and all of a defendant’s background information provided to judges when bail is considered.
“Give judges the tools to recognize those types of issues, to basically understand if an individual was out on bail and they commit a crime, because the number one thing that judges are concerned about is keeping the community safe,” Rangel said.