Rep. John Blanton and Rep. Jason Nemes sponsored the bill, also dubbed Madelynn’s Bill, to honor a 17-year-old girl who was hit and killed in a head-on collision, WAVE reported. The driver, Michael Jacob Dewitt, had previously bonded out of jail after securing a $5,000 donation from the nonprofit organization, The Bail Project. Bail Project Midwest regional director Matthew McFarland indicated in an interview with ABC-affiliated WHAS that the organization would have acted differently if it had the chance.
“Obviously hindsight is 20/20,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury of seeing into the future, and of course, if we did, things would be different.”
David Gaspar, national director of operations at The Bail Project, wrote in an Indianapolis Star editorial that the nonprofit is an “easy scapegoat.” “It is easier to blame a charity than grapple with the tragedy of our society’s systemic failings, particularly when it comes to lifting under-resourced Black communities out of poverty and desperation,” Gaspar wrote. “Take the case of Deonta Williams, a young Black man helped by The Bail Project who was recently accused of assaulting two police officers. Williams, who had been living in a homeless shelter, received a large medical bill he could not pay, and this seems to have sent him over the edge. According to news reports, he wanted to commit ‘suicide by cop.’”
“This is such a profoundly tragic situation, not only for the police officers who were called as Williams was having a mental breakdown and risked their lives, but for this 20-year-old who, at an age when other young people are in college planning their future, is already homeless, burdened with medical debt, sinking into a mental health crisis, and now facing prison for the rest of his life.”
Alex Flood, a leader of the organization Louisville Showing Up for Racial Justice told WAVE the concept of the organization is “as radically simple as it sounds.” “We believe that people are innocent until proven guilty, and when folks are stuck in jail because they are too poor, they’re being punished for crimes they’ve not been convicted of,” Flood said. “And so we’re just asking judges to cut that out.”
Texas Republicans passed legislation last year to ensure judges could not, in fact, cut it out. Although GOP efforts to outright ban charitable groups from posting bail were hampered, Republicans were able to weasel into law language requiring organizations to be official nonprofits and file reports on those they bail out, The Texas Tribune reported.
“Currently, most Texas jail releases are determined by the defendant’s ability to post cash, but some jurisdictions—particularly Harris County after losses in federal court—have recently shifted to releasing more people accused of low-level crimes on personal bonds, which don’t require cash but can include restrictions like GPS ankle monitoring or routine drug testing,” Texas Tribune writer Jolie McCullough wrote last September. “SB 6 will ban the release of people accused of violent crimes on personal bonds, requiring instead that they be able to post the amount of cash set by the court, or pay a percentage to a bail bonds company.”
Nick Hudson, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, said in a news release that the bill is a “giveaway to the bail industry masquerading as a public safety proposal.”
“This bill will not make Texas meaningfully safer,” Hudson said. “SB 6 will make it harder for poor Texans to get out of jail while continuing to allow wealthy Texans to buy their freedom—regardless of how dangerous they are.”
Apparently, the lesson Kentucky Republicans took away from their Texas peers was to further fracture an already broken criminal justice system.