Harvard researchers are paying bail for some Bexar County inmates as part of new study

People charged with violent or domestic violence offenses are not elligible

Bexar County Jail

SAN ANTONIO – Harvard Law School is conducting a new justice study that will pay bail for select nonviolent Bexar County inmates over the next several years.

The study is investigating the effect of short-term incarceration on people who were recently arrested and assigned bail they can’t pay themselves.

People charged with violent or domestic violence offenses, or with violent or domestic violence convictions in their recent pasts, are not eligible to participate, according to the press release.

Related: Some people arrested on low level crimes will have their bond paid for Harvard research

Inmates wanting to participate in the study will have a 50-50 chance of being placed in an Extra-Chance Group or a Regular Pre-Trial Group, according to a press release from Bexar County.

For people randomized to the Extra-Chance Group, the Therapeutic Justice Foundation will post their bail so they can remain free until their trial. Anyone placed in the Regular Pre-Trial Group will not have their bail paid by the non-profit.

Members of the Regular Pre-Trial Group can still be released from jail if they post their own bail or a judge removes their bail.

The study is a randomized control trial studying the impact of cash bail.

“I can say generally that the Justice Study has been proceeding approximately to plan thus far,” Jim Greiner, Professor of Public Law at Harvard, told KSAT Thursday via email.

Researchers have been looking for inmates at Bexar County Jail who can’t afford their bail and must remain in custody since November.

“As of Jan. 2, 85% of the Bexar County Jail population — a total of 3,881 inmates — were being detained pretrial,” county spokesperson Tom Peine told Axios.

Greiner said he estimates that up to 1,500 people could partake in the study over the next 2-3 years. After people are enrolled, there will be two years of follow-up surveys and several years of administrative data collection.

According to researchers conducting the study, Bexar County was chosen because a majority of the community is Hispanic.

Cash bail critics argue that low-income people who can’t afford bail are disproportionately harmed by the cash bail system because they’re unable to work or take care of family members, making their financial situation that much more stressful and harder to overcome. Critics say that leads to a cycle of recidivism.

The U.S. Department of Justice argues that the purpose of pretrial detention is to “secure the appearance at trial of defendants who are flight risks and to protect the community from further criminal activity of the person charged.”

Bexar County Jail has made headlines multiple times over the last year for inmates dying while being held on low bond amounts, including 47-year-old Derrick Ellison. He died on Dec. 5 after a detention officer found him in his jail cell having trouble breathing. His bond amount was set at $1,500, meaning a $150 payment would have likely been all it took for him to be released, according to a previous KSAT report.

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Mary Claire Patton has been a journalist with KSAT 12 since 2015. She has reported on several high-profile stories during her career at KSAT and specializes in trending news and things to do around Texas and San Antonio.