RFK Human Rights and Local Partners Celebrate Major Bail Reform Win in Texas

More than 60% of people in Texas’ jails—some 40,000 individuals—have not been convicted of a crime. In fact, most of them are only in jail because they can’t afford to pay bail.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott knows full well that eliminating cash bail could spare tens of thousands of his constituents from unfairly languishing in jails across the state without risking public safety. A federal court proved as much in 2019 when Harris County, Texas, implemented sweeping bail reform measures, which allowed people to wait for their trial in their homes and communities rather than behind cell walls. Yet earlier this year, Gov. Abbott set out to prioritize and pass a dangerous bail measure, an effort he’s been trying to implement for the past two years, to make it harder for people to get out of jail without first paying bail while also limiting the ability of community and faith based bail funds to post bonds on behalf of others in need.

Gov. Abbott and his allies have framed House Bill 20 and Senate Bill 21 as ways to protect Texans from “dangerous” individuals by requiring bail payments for a wider range of offenses and mandating the use of pretrial risk assessments, tools which have been proven to heavily discriminate against Black, Brown, and low-income people. But in practice, these measures would do nothing to advance public safety; instead, funneling tens of thousands of more Texans into the state’s overcrowded jails, even though they haven’t been convicted of a crime, exacerbating cycles of mass incarceration and poverty.

While there was still time to take action, we engaged directly with the Texas legislature on why HB 20 must not be passed and mobilized influencers, like Grammy Award-nominated artist Aloe Blacc, to speak out against the legislation. Building a coalition of partners from the ACLU of Texas and the Texas Organizing Project, among others, and launching a wide range of advocacy efforts—including a full-page ad in the Austin American-Statesman—the HB 20 and SB 21 bills were stopped.

“The defeat of Texas’ dangerous bail bill is a win for all Texans,” said coalition partner Nick Hudson, policy and advocacy strategist for the ACLU of Texas. “H.B. 20 would have enriched the bail industry while undermining public safety and punishing the poor. It solved nothing. We are grateful to the many organizations, lawmakers, and concerned Texans who advocated against this terrible legislation. Now, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and pass a bill that will actually reform the bail system. We look forward to working with lawmakers and partners to create a strong, fair justice system for the benefit and wellbeing of all Texans.”