The New York Times this week published The Bail Trap about how many misdemeanor defendants plea guilty to crimes they did not commit to get out of jail because they cannot afford bail rather than go to trial which would require them to sit longer than if they plea.
This is not exclusively a New York problem. It is a Harris County problem, too. I was informed of this reality shortly after I became lawyer in 1999 - not by a law professor or a mentor, but by an inmate of the Harris County Jail who couldn't afford bond and who had never had anyone stand up for him before. I told him why I thought he had a defensible case and he told my why it didn't matter. Little has changed since then. The legislature passed a law allowing citations & summons (aka "cite and release") for some common misdemeanors including possession of marihuana and driving with a suspended license, but Harris County has never moved to implement it.
Article 14.06 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure was passed by a Republican legislature and signed by a Republican Governor Rick Perry in 2007. For listed misdemeanors in subsection (d), it states:
(c) If the person resides in the county where the offense occurred, a peace officer who is charging a person with committing an offense that is a Class A or B misdemeanor may, instead of taking the person before a magistrate, issue a citation to the person that contains written notice of the time and place the person must appear before a magistrate of this state as described by Subsection (a), the name and address of the person charged, and the offense charged.
You know - just like a traffic ticket is a promise to appear - which logistically both municipal and justice of the peace courts figured out the logistics of about a century ago for the exact same law enforcement agencies - HPD, HCSO, DPS, HC Constables etc.
If they did enforce 14.06, fewer people would be caught in "the bail trap."
Update: Harris County Has Gotten a Lot Better about using PR Bonds as the result of effots by the DAO, the judges and others - who are to be commended.