Changes coming for Dallas County cash bail system

Dallas County officials believe changes to its cash bail system will be ready to go by a court-mandated deadline.

A federal judge ruled Dallas County’s system unconstitutional one year ago, deeming it unfair to poor defendants who could spend weeks behind bars. The district court judges came up with a new plan and it was unveiled on Tuesday.

Every person arrested who goes through a bail review hearing will now have the option of having the assistance of an attorney, officials said. Those hearings now must occur within 48 hours of an arrest. That would mean defendants could challenge bond amounts and potentially get out of jail sooner.

Dallas County Commissioners must now figure out how to pay for the changes. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said the new plan should result in fewer people behind bars and a recurring savings of $20 million to taxpayers.

“Under the system where we go with the risk assessment tool, we try to assess the risk of dangerous people, leave them in jail,” Jenkins said. “Where we have people who are going to return for their charge, we get them back to their families and their job and the taxpayers aren't paying for them.”

There will likely be more tweaking of the plan as it is rolled out, officials said late Tuesday. The judges are still ironing out the finer points of the plan and its execution.

A representative for Faith in Texas, one of the groups that has sought bail reform, said the developments are encouraging. But, she said her group would monitor who is providing legal representation for defendants. She believes public defenders would be best in the system.