BEXAR COUNTY – 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 what happens to low-level offenders waiting in jail because they cannot afford to post bail.
A San Antonio woman who was stuck in jail, unable to post bail, hopes this study will eventually lead to reform.
In 2010, Laquita Garcia was “accused” of theft and locked up at the Bexar County Jail with a $30,000.
Garcia couldn’t afford bail and spent a year in jail — that’s longer than the punishment sentence. During that time, she lost her job.
“You’re sitting in jail not knowing what to do, who to reach out to, who to go to for help, and feeling completely helpless,” said Garcia.
Garcia now works with the Texas Organizing Project, advocating for bail reform.
“People are sitting in jail simply because they’re poor and not because they have been convicted of a charge,” Garcia said.
Harvard researchers, like Jim Greiner, are collecting data to learn how unaffordable bail and incarceration impact people accused of crimes.
Since November, researchers have asked Bexar County inmates to participate.
If they agree, the Therapeutic Justice Foundation will randomly post bail for some inmates and not for others. People charged with a violent crime or domestic violence are not eligible to participate.
“We don’t know whether they have actually done something wrong yet. But the type of accusations are typically things like drug possession, petty theft,” Greiner said.
Greiner says researchers will follow up with participants through a series of surveys over several years to see if the early bail leads them toward more success.
“We elicit information on mental and physical health, on housing security, on workforce participation, you know, etc.,” said Greiner.
According to researchers conducting the study, Bexar County was chosen because a majority of the community is Hispanic.
The county is one of three counties nationwide included in the study–at least 1,500 Bexar County inmates are expected to participate over the next several years.
The results of the study could impact future legislation.
“We might suggest to policymakers that they take a look at the evidence, and if they find it persuasive, then they might implement reforms that could, I think, put a dent in the jail population,” Greiner said.
“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.
Results of the study won’t be available until after 2025.