By Michael Barajas
Originally published April 4, 2018
The Dallas County Jail books about 67,000 people every year, a population roughly equal to that of the Houston suburb Missouri City. The conveyor belt driving Dallas County’s hulking jail complex, the seventh largest in the country, operates in a courtroom deep inside the Lew Sterrett Justice Center downtown. That’s where magistrates hold around-the-clock hearings to determine bail. On any given day, about 70 percent of the jail’s roughly 5,000 inmates are there because they can’t afford the price tag placed on their pretrial freedom. Arrestees say that before they enter bail hearings, jailers warn them that the price could increase if they talk without permission. The hearings often last less than 60 seconds.
Though the bail hearings have serious ramifications for defendants, they are largely conducted in secret. Attorneys, family members, community activists and journalists are not allowed inside these court proceedings.
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