New software to help with bail setting requirements

Image result for new softwareANGLETON — The county’s top prosecutors and law enforcement officials are teaming up to develop criteria that will determine a defendant’s financial restrictions before they are tasked with paying fines.

At a meeting this week, Brazoria County commissioners gave the district attorney’s office the go-ahead to develop a $28,000 professional services agreement with Tyler Technologies Inc.

The Plano-based software company will help develop a form that will allow county law enforcement officials to collect financial and other information as part of the booking process to aid magistrates in setting bail amounts, Assistant District Attorney Jesse Blakely said.

“We ask a lot of questions we’ve never had to ask before, like how many dependents they have and the number and list of jobs they’ve had over the last two years,” Brazoria County Sheriff Charles Wagner said.

That form will integrate financial information into the Odyssey booking program used by Brazoria County jailers, Blakely said.

“It is ultimately a judiciary function, but to have someone who is supervised by the judiciary collecting that information would require a new staff position around the clock,” he said. “We’re asking the jailers to do a lot, so we want to make this as streamlined as possible.”

The procedure change is driven by a federal judge’s decision in a landmark bail lawsuit against Harris County, which permits qualified poor people charged with certain offenses — such as drunken driving or writing bad checks — to leave jail immediately and return for future appearances, according to a June 29 article in the Houston Chronicle.

The finding also gives judges two days to decide a bail amount for people arrested on more serious offenses, or who face holds or detainers that would prevent them from being released, according to the Chronicle.

Inmates claimed in a 2016 lawsuit against Harris County they were wrongfully detained in jail simply because they were too poor to pay their bail bonds, a December 2017 Texas Tribune article reported.

County officials are awaiting more specific information from Tyler Technologies before signing the agreement, Blakely said.

Officials have developed a form for sheriff’s deputies to use in the meantime, he said.

Deputies will also have to supply those forms to the Justice of the Peace officers, Wagner said.

“Eventually the cities are going to have to get involved with this because a lot of times we arrest and go straight to the JP’s office,” he said. “It’s not anything we wanted, but it’s something we got.”