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What is your strategy to end cash bail in Austin?

Natasha Harper-Madison

City Council, District 1

Given my extreme concerns about the cash bail system, as it is in direct conflict with our claims of a fair justice system, I follow initiatives of other cities and organizations in their innovative approach to creating alternatives and recreating a system that is entirely broken. While a council member has limited direct influence, the office could definitely be used to pursue a strategy that seeks to end cash bail at the different levels of criminal trials. First, part of the review of municipal judges should include whether they rely on cash bail. Second, magistrates should be given adequate resources to perform whatever risk assessments and monitoring are necessary to release every defendant who is not an immediate danger to society. Third, defendants should be given representation at every stage of municipal court trials because defendants who have representation at arraignments have a far higher rate of release than those who do not. For higher level offenses, the office can be primarily used as a leadership platform and bully pulpit to persuade and cajole county-level judges and prosecutors to move away from cash bail entirely. Harris County was essentially forced to create a criminal justice coordinating council of local elected officials and advocates due to litigation, but the model could be replicated here. Upon taking office, I would reach out to other elected officials including judges, the sheriff, and the DA to start such a council, and would start convening meetings whether they attend or not. Travis County talks a good game about being a progressive county, but our actions in the criminal justice system do not measure up to that rhetoric. We can lead the way in municipal court, and join hands with our county-level elected officials to complete the change at the county level.