Texas Incarceration Costs

Prisoners and prisons in Texas are expensive. However, not everyone knows exactly how much the state pays to run the corrections system, both in aggregate and per inmate. In this article, we will discuss these costs in full for the Texas penal system and analyze the implications of these numbers for the Texas taxpayer.

Breaking Down What Texas Spends

It is not easy to isolate an exact number for how much the Texas government spends on prisons. This is because some of the money that Texas spends to run its prisons comes from parts of the state’s budget outside of the specific budget for the Department of Criminal Justice. Examples include the cost of benefits for prison workers, the cost of capital for prisons, and legal costs. It is not always possible to get numbers for these categories, because they are not part of the budget designated for funding incarceration.

Estimating Costs

A nonprofit organization, the Vera Institute of Justice, examines state governments all over the country to learn about what they spend for incarcerated prisoners. In total, Texas spends 2.5 billion dollars in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s budget for prison expenditures. On top of that, Texas needs to pay for the retirement benefits and health benefits of prison workers outside that budget. Both of these systems are underfunded- Texas will need to fully fund all the money that it is obligated to spend for these benefits in the future, and it will need to pay interest the longer it waits. These employee benefit payments and obligations total about 500 million dollars. The state also needs to pay money to service loans that it took out to support the prison system, as well as pay for administrative costs of running prisons. Overall, the state pays about 3.3 billion dollars. This is a low estimate, because the costs of judgements and legal claims cannot be estimated. All of these numbers reflect the 2010 fiscal year.

Cost Per Prisoner and Taxpayer

Texas houses about 155,000 people in its prisons. That means that the total expenditure per prisoner per year is at least $21,390. To put it in another perspective, in 2010 Texas had 25.26 million residents. That implies that each resident paid $130 per year to maintain the prison system. Texas does not levy a personal income tax on its residents. That means that it has to fund that money through the state sales tax and corporate taxes. If the state sales tax rate is 6.25 percent, that means each Texan needs to buy about $139 worth of things to pay for the prison system.

While the aggregate numbers may seem high at first glance, when they are broken down into per-resident figures, they are not that large. It does not take that much tax revenue per person to support the prison system, at least using 2010 figures. Of course, there may be non-monetary costs to incarcerating prisoners, but those are beyond the scope of this treatment.

What to Expect at DUI Checkpoints

DUI checkpoints are being used with ever increasing frequency around the United States. This includes not only in major and mid-sized cities, but on highways and in smaller communities as well. Because of the rather ubiquitous nature of DUI checkpoints, it is important for a driver to understand what to expect at this type of inspection point.

Proof of Identity

When a vehicle is stopped at a DUI checkpoint, the first thing that occurs is that the law enforcement officers on duty request identification from the driver. The driver will be required to present his or her valid driver’s license.

In addition to providing the law enforcement officers with a valid driver’s license, the driver will also need to present proof that the motor vehicle is insured and the registration for it. In the end, the failure to present any one of these articles can result in a person being issues a citation.

Basic Questions from Officer

The law enforcement officers on duty at the checkpoint quickly visually inspect a vehicle and its occupants to note any signs of intoxication. Officers primarily rely on sight and smell to identify potentially intoxicated drivers.

When making these observations, officers sometimes will question the driver, and perhaps the other occupants of the vehicle, to ascertain additional information about whether the driver may have consumed a mind altering substance before driving.

A person at a DUI checkpoint needs to keep in mind that he or she is under no obligation to respond to any questions put forth by the officers. Although refusing to respond to questions may elevate the stop to a different and more intense level, there truly are instances in which it is unwise for a driver to respond to questions. For example, if the driver has had a drink or two during dinner, he or she probably should avoid responding to questions about that fact. The drinking of an alcoholic beverage does not mean that a person is impaired, even applying the strictest of DUI laws on the books in the United States.

Field Sobriety Test

If an officer at a DUI checkpoint reasonably believes that a driver may have been drinking, may be intoxicated or otherwise under the influence of mind altering substances, the officer may request that the driver perform what are known as field sobriety tests. An example of a field sobriety test is walking in a straight line, toe to heel. for a specific distance.

Blood Alcohol Test

If a driver does not successfully complete the field sobriety tests, an officer at a DUI checkpoint may request that he or she submit to a blood alcohol test, oftentimes referred to as a Breathalyzer. This test is designed to detect the presence and amount of alcohol in a person’s system.

Move On

Provided that the officers at a DUI checkpoint find nothing out of the ordinary and do not suspect intoxication, the most common thing that happens at a DUI checkpoint is the driver is motioned onward. This occurs after a quick review of a driver’s license, proof of insurance and vehicle registration.

How to Avoid the Most Common Bail Bond Scams

The bail bond process is a right ensured by the Constitution. The process and fees associated with a bail bond are also heavily regulated in most states. Any fee or procedure that deviates from the regulations is likely fraudulent. Anyone posting bail should be aware of the regulations of their state, and if they are unsure about the practice, an attorney may help them.

General Ways to Avoid Scams

Since the bail bond process is heavily regulated, defendants have many ways to ensure that the agency they are working with is legal and true about posting bail. An agency must be licensed, so it is a good idea to always check this before working with a bail bondsmen. The bail bondsman should also be someone who works frequently with the jail and the courts, so it is very likely they will be known. The courthouse may be able to provide a list of reputable agencies in the local area for help with posting bail. Most agencies position their offices as close to the courthouse as possible, so any agency claiming to be a bail bond provider that is not reasonable close to the court should be suspect. One of the best ways to avoid scams is to allow an attorney to find a bondsman on the defendant’s behalf. Attorneys frequently work out the bail arrangements for their clients, and will have a list of reputable bail bonds agencies.

Cold Calls from Bail Bondsmen

A bail bondsmen typically cannot solicit their services directly. They also have very little reason to contact random individuals by phone. A bondsman waits to be contacted by someone who has recently been through a bail hearing and requires a bond to post bail. Contacting a person before that has occurred makes little sense. Any contact initiated by someone claiming to be a bail bondsman should be considered highly suspect. The scam may attempt to get the victim to pay for some kind of bond insurance or other fee. No such fees are valid, and such attempts are illegal in most states. Generally, no business should be conducted with a bail bondsman that initiates contact.

Bail Bondsmen Soliciting in Jails

This is a common scam that preys on the hopes of those already in jail without bail. Those perpetrating this scam will often promise to post bail in exchange for a small fee paid on the spot. They will often offer extremely low rates to encourage desperate people to take the offer. Similar to cold calling from a bail bondsmen, this is a form of contact that is generally illegal. A true bail bondsmen will never initiate contact with a person inside a jail.

Bail Bondsmen Requesting Payment Before Defendant is Released

A bail bond agency makes money based on fees paid by clients. The bail bondsman will post the required fee to the court and then request a fee as percentage of the cost of bail. A true bail bondsman will request proof the bail amount and will not charge an arbitrary fee before the defendant is released. Any bondsman that attempts to collect a fee before doing this is likely committing fraud and may not actually post the bond to release the defendant.

By being aware of scams and having an understanding of the bail process, everyone can scams. The bail bond process should be predictable and without any mysteries or unknowns.

Differences Between Bond & Bail

When a person finds himself or herself in jail, it could be argued that he or she usually wants to be released as soon as possible. The aim of this article is to describe how the process of being released from jail in the United States works by outlining the differences between bail and bond.

What is bail?

Bail can be thought of as a combination of a payment and a promise. When a person who has been arrested posts bail, he or she is paying the court in order to be released from jail and simultaneously agreeing to show up for his or her court date.

Depending on the severity of the crime and the person’s criminal background, he or she may be able to post bail immediately after being arrested. In other cases, the person will have to remain in jail and wait for what is known as a bail hearing. The time frame for a bail hearing varies.

During the bail hearing, the judge will decide if the person is eligible to post bail. If so, the judge will then determine the cost of bail.

Based on a number of factors, bail may be less than five thousand dollars or more than one million dollars. Bail may also be waived. A person is released on his or her “own recognizance” in these situations.

What is bond?

Bail and bond are somewhat synonymous terms used to describe a financial “penalty” imposed by a judge on a person who has been arrested. When a person makes the payment, he or she is agreeing to appear before the judge to plead his or her case.

The technical differences between bail and bond lie in the forms of payment and the ascribed names. For example, cash bonds are essentially bail. In fact, bond is often referred to as “bail bond.”

As previously stated, a person may be allowed to post bail by making a cash payment to the court. The money is refunded if the defendant appears on his or her court date or dates as ordered by the judge.

What happens when a person does not have cash to post bail?

If a person has not been released on his or her own recognizance or does not have enough money to post bail, he or she will have to use the services of a bail bond company in order to be released from jail.

Other payment options include property bonds and surety bonds.

What are property bonds?

As implied by the name, a property bond is a form of payment in which the defendant uses the title to his or her property or properties instead of cash to post bail. The property value must be enough to cover the cost of bail; and in the event that the defendant fails to show up for his or her trial, the property is forfeited.

What are surety bonds?

Surety bonds are bonds that someone else agrees to pay on the defendant’s behalf, and these services are usually rendered by bail bondsmen.

The Booking Process: How Does It Work?

Your Rights Following An Arrest

Being arrested is a trying and uncertain time. Understanding your rights under the law can help alleviate some of the anxiety, and ensure that you are getting the treatment you deserve as a citizen.

Immediately following your arrest you will be transported to the police station for intake processing. The intake process involves confirming your identity by asking you basic questions such as name, address, date of birth, and social security number. You will have your fingerprints taken, as well as being photographed in what is commonly known as a “mug shot.”

Once your identity is confirmed, the police will conduct a search for any outstanding warrants, summons, or unpaid fines which will be included in your arraignment before a judge. You will be searched and have all personal items confiscated. Any illegal items found on your person may lead to additional charges being brought against you. Although contraband is not returned, your personal effects will be given back to you upon your release. You will be given a voucher listing the personal items that you have a right to retrieve. If for some reason you are not given a voucher, you have a right to ask for the voucher number as well as issuing officer’s name and badge number to confirm that the correct items are returned to you when released.

You may have to undergo a medical examination during which you will have to submit to a blood, urine, or breath test if arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. Be sure to make the police aware of any medications you take for a serious illness. It is your right to have your prescription medications listed on your prisoner medical treatment form and made available to the medical staff if necessary. Additionally, you cannot be denied medical treatment if you are injured or unwell.

Once the intake processing is completed, you will be taken to Central Booking (or the jurisdiction’s equivalent) for arraignment processing. While in custody awaiting arraignment, you are entitled to certain basic rights. You will be provided with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The meat on the sandwiches provided for lunch and dinner is halal, and if you are a vegetarian you may request a cheese sandwich. Additionally, you must be provided with soap, toilet paper, and drinking water.

It is essential that you are aware of your right to have an attorney present before answering any questions or providing a statement to police. If you cannot afford to pay a lawyer, a public defender will act on your behalf. Additionally, arresting officers are not required to advise you of your right to remain silent (Miranda warning) unless they intend on questioning you. However, you should be aware that the police can use anything they hear you say while in custody as part of the case against you even if you were not read your rights. Refrain from speaking about your case to anyone, including on the telephone or to another prisoner, until your lawyer is present.

Remaining calm and courteous to the officers will only serve to make the booking process run more smoothly. During this process your basic human rights must be met, you are not required to incriminate yourself, and are entitled to legal counsel even if unable to pay.

The Difference Between Misdemeanor and Felony Bail

Whether you or someone you know has been arrested, in most cases the person has the right to post bail in order to get out of jail. However, there are some cases where posting bail is not an option and the person must remain in jail even after the custody time has elapsed. What often determines whether a person has the right to post bail is the charge(s) for which they were arrested, as well as any meaningful circumstances involving the arrested individual. Further, a major determining factor is whether those charges were a misdemeanor or a felony.

Arrest Process

If someone is suspected of a crime, law enforcement officials may decide to arrest the individual and then take them to jail. Once they arrive at the jail, the individual will then be “booked” into the facility. This is an administrative process involving the filling out of forms and the gathering of their personal information. Further, it is during this booking process where the arrest information, the charges, as well as an inventory of personal property will be recorded. The individual will also photographed and fingerprinted during the booking.

Bail Process

Once the person has been booked, they will then be arraigned. During the arraignment, the defendant will appear before a judge, is informed of the charges, and then can enter a plea. It is during their arraignment where the individual will learn what their bail amount will be. This process will be very similar for both misdemeanor and felony charges. In situations where the defendant is allowed to post bail, the U.S. Constitution guarantees that the bail amount cannot be excessive. However, bail is often set at an amount which the average person probably does not have the cash on hand to pay it. For this, a person may use a bail bond service, a credit card, borrow the money, or remain in jail.

Misdemeanor Bail

With many misdemeanor crimes such as DUI, simple assault, drunk in public, and others, the jail may have a set bail amount already established. The person will be allowed to pay this bail amount and then leave the jail as soon as they do. Defendants who are charged with a misdemeanor crime must enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest at the time of the arraignment. The majority of misdemeanor charges requiring an arraignment in order to determine the bail amount, will usually take place very soon following the arrest. If the person remains in jail until the date of their arraignment for a misdemeanor charge, this process will usually be completed within a day or two following the arrest.

Felony Bail

For defendants who are charged with a felony crime, there is no guarantee that they will be allowed to post bail. Upon reviewing the facts of the case, the judge will determine whether or not to issue bail and at what amount. For many states, the bail amount for felonies may also be predetermined if the felony is not scheduled. For all scheduled felonies, each state has a list of amounts which the judge can use when determining what bail should be. The judge will also set a preliminary hearing during the arraignment, and in cases where the judge decides to grant bail, the amount is set after the plea and scheduling. For felony charges, the bail amount is often much higher than those of resulting from a misdemeanor.

Got Pulled Over? Know Your Rights

If a police officer signals you to pull over, you should comply as soon as possible as it may be easier to deal with a police officer if they are not angry or frustrated. Keep in mind that officers are often attacked during traffic stops and so a police officer approaching your car will be viewing you as a potential threat. Furthermore, they have the right to use deadly force and to arrest, which means that you should take your conduct during a traffic stop very seriously. Comply with their demands and provide them with your driver’s license and insurance information. However, remember that you do have rights; if you are asked to pull over, be mindful of the following:

  1. You Have the Right to Remain Silent
    This is arguably the most well known right and yet it is one of the areas where many people get themselves into trouble. A case against you may be won or lost based on what you say to the police officer. Speak as little as possible. “Sure, officer” is all you need to say as you comply. Questions like “do you know why you were stopped?” are designed to get you to admit guilt. Do not answer them.
  2. You Cannot be Detained for an Unreasonable Length of Time
    While there is no set length of time for a traffic stop; however, an officer cannot prolong your detention beyond the time they need to perform registration checks and other basic tasks.
  3. You Have the Right to Refuse a Search of Your Vehicle
    You should not consent to a search, even if they threaten to bring in the K-9 unit. Among the reasons to refuse a search is the fact that you have no control over your vehicle at that point. The fourth amendment offers you protection from a search of your home, vehicle and your pockets. If they cannot see an illegal object in your car, they cannot legally search it without a warrant. They need a reasonable suspicion that you are involved in criminal activity; note that sudden furtive movements after being pulled over can give rise to that suspicion. Note also that if there are any illegal objects in plain sight, they can open the door to seize them. If they see any other illegal items while in your car, they can seize those too. Bear in mind that if the officer has a warrant, you have to allow them to search.
  4. You Have the Right to Record Your Traffic Stop
    Even though a police officer may be filming the traffic stop using their dash cam, the first amendment gives you the right to film it as well. You should make sure that in the effort to film the traffic stop you do not stall or interfere with the officer or you could be arrested for obstructing them. Along with recording the traffic stop itself, you may also request and record identification information from the officers present.
  5. You Have the Right to Refuse a Breathalyzer Test
    In many cases, this will not be a good idea since some states will suspend your license for refusing. If the police officer suspects you of drinking, then they have probable cause and can be taken back to the station to be tested.

While traffic stops can be stressful, it is essential that you remain calm at all times and do your best to cooperate. Remember, you do have to pull over when directed to do so but you are also protected by the law.

The Legal Drinking Age

The legal drinking age in the United States makes it illegal for everyone under the age of 21 to purchase or consume alcohol in public. The legal drinking age has been debated in the country since the days of prohibition over 90 years ago. Since there are arguments for both lowering and raising the legal drinking age, the debate should continue for many years to come.

Why is the Legal Drinking Age 21?

The legal drinking age in the United States is 21 years old because of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which passed in July 1984. Prior to the passing of this law, it was up to individual states to decide their legal drinking age. This meant that people over the age of 18 may purchase alcohol in their home state while not being able to purchase it in a neighboring state. When the National Minimum Drinking Age Act was passed, 29 states had a legal drinking age lower than 21. While the legal drinking age is still considered a state law, any state that does not have a legal drinking age of 21 will not receive their allotted 10 percent of the national highway construction fund from the federal government. While the law passed in 1984, it was not until 1995 that every state was in compliance.

Should Drinking Age Be Lowered or Raised?

While there have been debates on the legal drinking age for nearly 100 years, it does not appear that they will stop any time soon. The increase of drunk driving fatalities among young drivers was one of the biggest reasons for the increase in the legal drinking age. The United States remains the only developed country in the world with a legal drinking age of 21. This fact has fueled the debate for supporters of a lower drinking age. If people in Europe can responsibly drink at the age of 18, then there is no reason this can’t be done in the United States. Some people also want to raise the legal drinking age because of the continued increase of drunk driving cases among young drivers in the country.

Texas Zero Tolerance Law

While some states allow consumption of alcohol under parental supervision after turning 18, Texas has a zero tolerance law when it comes to underage drinking. If someone under the age of 21 is caught with any trace of alcohol in their system while driving, then they will receive a DWI, which cause them to have their license suspended. Minors will also receive a ticket if they consume, purchase or possess alcohol in the state.

Advice for Responsible Drinking

The best way to responsibly drink is to only consume alcohol after reaching the legal drinking. It can be tough for people that just hit the legal drinking age to drink responsibly because they want to make up for lost time. Everyone handles alcohol in a different manner, so it is best to only consume a few drinks until you know your limits. If you are planning on drinking, it is also imperative that you do not drive for the rest of the night. If you have a few drinks with a small group of friends, then you will have no problem enjoying your new freedom.

What To Expect With Bail Bond Hearings

It is perfectly natural to feel nervous during a courtroom appearance. Bail bond hearings are normally held to decide how much bail should be posted, or if there is any bail required. Appearing at a bail bond hearing can be an intimidating event, especially if it is a new experience. Sometimes just knowing what to expect during the hearing can be helpful.

Chain Of Events During A Bail Bond Hearing

Some bail bond hearings are held in person, while others are held in a remote way with the judge in another location. In remote cases, the judge appears using the latest in video or remote voice technology. If the bond was not set right after charges were filed, a hearing is necessary. This hearing to set bond is usually held as soon as possible.

The defendant will normally be escorted into the courtroom. There, they must wait for their name to be called and they will move up to the podium. If the hearing is done remotely and is being recorded, the defendant will usually be asked to stand in a specific place.

The judge will usually read the charges and make a decision about whether to set bond, and will decide on the amount of the bond. Each case is different. For heinous crimes, there may not be a bond amount set. In cases when the defendant is thought to be a very low flight risk, or is no harm to himself or to others, defendants may be released on their own recognizance, with no bond required or posted.

How Do Federal Cases Differ?

In cases where a federal crime has occurred, the bail bond process becomes more serious. Larger cash amounts are required to post bond. The court also needs to take proper precautions to make sure that the money used for bond was obtained legally.

A special hearing called a Nebbia hearing may be needed, with the purpose of making sure the money was secured legally to post bond. The court may ask for things like bank records, business records, special accounting statements or tax records to show where the money is coming from. The money used to post bail cannot come from any illegal sources, or be gains derived from illegal activities, such as money laundering or drug trafficking.

Due to the extra work required and expertise needed to handle federal cases, fees charged by bail bond companies to take on federal cases may be higher. Specialized knowledge is needed to handle federal cases.

When A Bond Hearing Is Not Needed

There are cases where there is no need for a bond hearing. One time is when bond is already set at a certain rate for specific crimes. In these cases, bond can be paid and the defendant is free to go until the hearing date. Other examples include when a crime is not serious, when the defendant has an excellent record of being employed and living in the community, and when a person is not considered to be a flight risk.

When help is needed with bail bonds, the smartest move is to contact a bail bond expert. Bail bondsmen are happy to help with navigating the often confusing process. This is especially true since everything is usually happening quickly and during an emotionally taxing time.

Arrest Warrant 101

An arrest warrant is a court decree that orders a person to be taken into custody and brought before the court to answer charges. The arrest warrant specifies the alleged crime and general facts that support the accusations. The arrest warrant also names and often describes the person alleged to have committed the offense.

Right Against Unreasonable Search and Seizure

To obtain an arrest warrant, a prosecutor, police officer or other complainant must file a written request in a court of competent jurisdiction, a court with authority to hear the matter. In the United States, there are protections that guard against wrongful arrest and detention. Specifically, the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the right to be free from unreasonable seizures, searches and arrests. The 4th Amendment further mandates that warrants will not be issued unless supported any probable cause and sworn to under oath with a particular description of the person to be arrested. The safeguards afforded by the United States Constitution are echoed in state statutes and laws.

Sworn Statements Need to Show Probable Cause

The request or petition for an arrest warrant must contain sworn statements alleging a crime or offense has been committed. The statements need to establish probable cause to justify the arrest. In other words, the sworn statements must be enough for a judge, magistrate or other judicial officer to conclude that the crime was probably committed as described. If a court decides probable cause exists, then the court will issue a decree for the arrest or detention of the accused.

Arrest and Release on Bail Awaiting Trial

Once the court issues the arrest warrant, law enforcement officers will seek and arrest the person named in the warrant. If and when the accused person is found and arrested, then that person is brought before the court to be advised of the full charges and penalties for the crime. The court can also allow for release pending trial on the matter. The release can be on personal recognizance whereby the accused will be released upon the promise to return to court for trial. The court can also conclude that the nature of the charges or the character of the accused requires some insurance that the accused will appear for trial. At that time, a court will sent bail for the release of accused person with the bail amount returned upon the appearance at trial. If the bail is not posted, then the accused remains in custody until a trial date that can be weeks to months later.

What to Do When Bail is Set Too High to Pay in Full

Many times an accused cannot afford to pay the full bail amount. A bail bondsman can provide bond services whereby the bail will be posted for a fee or premium. The premium is typically a small percentage of the bail and much more affordable. Subsequently, a bondsman can be invaluable to an accused by allowing for release on bail, even if the entire bail is initially too expensive for the accused to pay. If you are ever taken into custody on an arrest warrant and bail is set too high for you to afford, seek the aid of a reputable bondsman as quickly as possible.