Media Bias in Harris County

In 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Lee Rosenthal held in an historic ruling that Harris County’s misdemeanor bond system was unconstitutional, given that wealth was the primary factor in pretrial release. As part of the resulting settlement, Harris County now requires the release of the majority of misdemeanor defendants on personal recognizance bonds, which do not require an upfront cash payment.

Harris County’s implemented reforms ensure that defendants are not prematurely punished with jail time—upholding the principle of a ‘presumption of innocence’ for the criminally accused, and preventing taxpayers from footing the bill for unnecessary weeks or months of incarceration. Multiple reports from the court’s federal oversight monitor have documented the successful changes made to the bond system.

Though Harris County continues to reap the benefits of a fairer, less discriminatory system, many county residents continue to be in the dark as to these meaningful improvements. Despite the positive numbers reported by the court monitor, a counter-narrative has emerged. This counter-narrative—that bond reform lets dangerous individuals out of jail, negatively impacting on public safety—has been propagated by much of the local media, including the local television news.

The Texas Center for Justice and Equity (TCJE) has created a report series to analyze the local media’s coverage of bond in Harris County and better understand their role in shaping the false counter-narrative that bond reform and pretrial release are dangerous.

Part I: Analysis of Local TV Stations

Part II: Analysis of the Houston Chronicle


Resources: The Real ‘Bond Pandemic’

  • Blog post from Elaine Hennig, one of the authors of both Part I and Part II, highlighting misleading coverage of bond reform and local leaders' role in combating misinformation | Click Here »
  • Press release highlighting our "Real 'Bond Pandemic'" report, Part I | Click Here »
  • Press release highlighting our "Materially Misleading" report, Part II | Click Here »
  • Blog post from Ben Greaves, one of the authors of Part I, which also includes the questions our team submitted to the four English-language stations whose coverage we analyzed | Click Here »
  • Petition where you can demand unbiased coverage from KPRC, KTRK, KHOU, and KRIV | Click Here »
  • Article on money bail from Arnold Ventures, including mention of Part I of our report | Click Here »
  • Interview with TCJE's Jay Jenkins, Elaine Hennig, and Ben Greaves from National Partnership for Pretrial Justice | Click Here »