The US Supreme Court [official website] on Wednesday refused to block [docket] a finding that a Texas county’s bail system discriminates against the poor. Officials of Harris County petitioned the court on Tuesday [AP report] for an emergency order to block the ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] which called for the release of inmates who were incarcerated for not being able to afford bail. District Judge Lee Rosenthal of the Southern District of Texas [official website] ruled in April that inmates who signed affidavits swearing to their financial situations could be released from the county jail as the bail system was in violation of equal protection rights and due process safeguards against incarceration without proper procedure or affording those held the opportunity to be heard. The country jail began releasing inmates late Tuesday and will continue to do so. The county will continue its appeal of the ruling.
The issue of finance as a factor for revocation or imprisonment is controversial. In April Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] issued a report [JURIST report] saying California’s bail system pressures the poor into pleading guilty in order to be released from jail. Earlier in April the Supreme Court of Missouri ruled [JURIST report] that a parolee’s ability to pay court costs should be considered. The Maryland Court of Appeals adopted a rule [JURIST report] in February ending the practice of holding criminal defendants in jail before trial when they cannot afford bail. Last June a lawsuit accused [JURIST report] a Louisiana judge of running a modern-day debtors’ prison for sentencing people to jail when they could not afford fees. Last March the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reached a settlement [JURIST report] with the city of Biloxi, Mississippi, in a lawsuit alleging that the detention of defendants unable to pay fines for misdemeanor charges exhibited deliberate indifference to their constitutional rights. Also last March the US Department of Justice urged [JURIST report] state court systems to stop using procedural routines and hefty fines to profit off poor defendants.