Maranda Lynn ODonnell’s supposed crime was small. On May 18, she was arrested for allegedly driving with an invalid license. But the 22-year-old mother says she was still jailed for two days at the Harris County Jail in Texas, kept away from her four-year-old daughter and her new job at a restaurant.
If ODonnell had more money, she would have been able to go home immediately. But she doesn’t have many resources. She can’t afford her own home, so she and her daughter stay with a friend. She relies on WIC benefits to feed her child. She lives paycheck to paycheck. So when she was told she either had to pay a $2,500 bail after her arrest or be detained, she was stuck in the jailhouse.
She’s not the only one. In a lawsuit she filed with the nonprofit Equal Justice Under Law against Harris County, two others recounted similar stories. Loetha Shanta McGruder, another 22-year-old mother of a four-year-old with Down syndrome and ten-month-old infant who is also pregnant with a third child, was arrested on May 19 in Jacinto, Texas and told to pay a $5,000 bail. She can’t afford it; she has no job, no money or savings, lives on disability payments and child support, and was already planning to apply to Medicaid so she can get OB-GYN care as well as food stamps. Robert Ryan Ford, a 26-year-old with no work, no bank account, and no assets was told to pay $5,000 after he was arrested on May 18.
The three of them are lucky, though. Two days after her arrest, ODonnell was released and reunited with her daughter. While she almost lost her job — the restaurant hired a new waitress when ODonnell missed a few shifts — the new hire didn’t work out and she should be able to go back to work later this week. McGruder and Ford are both supposed to be released on Monday.
But the county’s practices haven’t changed since the lawsuit was filed, according to one of the attorneys, and hundreds of other people too poor to afford bail are still being held.