Meet the Harris County Judge Who Wants to Abolish Our Cash-Bail System

“All rise,” the bailiff calls, and the people packing the rows of Court 16 at the Harris County Criminal Court shuffle to their feet. Judge Darrell Jordan strides in, a 41-year-old man in black-framed glasses, his robes fluttering behind him before he stops abruptly in front of an American flag and begins to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Jordan calls out all 92 names on his early-July docket, marking attendance and asking each defendant how to correctly pronounce their names. He reminds them not to talk about their cases; that’s not what he’s here to discuss.

Each of the defendants is awaiting trial for misdemeanor crimes ranging from trespassing to DWI to theft. Although the judge won’t be seeing everyone—some will make plea deals, others will reset their court dates—he’ll bring about a dozen out, one at a time, for a face-to-face, before resetting their bail, which is his job today.

The first defendant, a skinny man in orange, is brought out. Charged with stealing several necklaces, which together cost less than $750, he has been in jail for three days. The bail set when he was admitted, according to a schedule used by the county, was $2,500. He’s still in jail, though, because he can’t afford to pay it or bond out.

“We’re going to issue a PR bond,” the judge tells the man, meaning he can walk out without paying a dime because the judge will accept his word that he’ll show up to his court date.

A law intern working with the judge pipes up, mentioning the man’s lengthy list of prior arrests and convictions.

“That’s okay,” the judge replies.

A look of surprise flashes across the defendant’s face, and he takes a second before stammering, “thank you, sir,” as the bailiff leads him back out to be processed for release.

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