Criminal injustice in Texas: Thousands stay jailed in just one county because they can’t pay bail — and it’s happening all over the U.S

What happens if you get arrested in Harris County, Texas?

If you’re charged with a minor misdemeanor, like 22-year-old Maranda ODonnell, who was charged in May for driving with an invalid license, the officer that arrested you calls the assistant district attorney that’s on duty, who decides, usually over the phone, whether to charge you or let you go.

If they decide to charge you, as they did with ODonnell, they determine how much your bail will be. If you can pay it, you’re immediately released, without even being booked into the jail. If you can’t pay, you’re booked. The amount you have to pay is determined by the Harris County Bail Schedule.

As of March, there were more than 6,800 inmates in the Harris County Jail who hadn’t been convicted of any crime, simply because the could not make bail.  It costs Harris County $75 per day, per person.

Once booked, and usually within 24 hours, you’ll be brought in with a group of 25 to 40 others to appear before a hearing officer. You aren’t offered an attorney if you can’t afford one yourself .The hearing officer will determine whether there was indeed probable cause for your arrest, and if your bail amount was set correctly.  Then, you either pay up and walk out, or stay locked up.

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