Some counties are cutting jail populations by releasing more pretrial defendants on “personal recognizance” bonds, says Tim Murray of the Washington, D.C.-based Pretrial Justice Institute. Murray said he hopes courts would reverse a trend of imposing bail bonds on more defendants. Speaking to the National Criminal Justice Association in Bellevue, Wa., he acknowledged that the bail bond industry is fighting efforts to liberalize pretrial release policies despite data showing that bonds do not increase public safety. Murray warned that absent widespread reforms of pretrial release, the nation’s jail population could reach 900,000 by 2013; it is now less than 700,000.
Officials of two jurisdictions that have reduced jail populations described how they did it. Larimer County, Colo., has instituted a series of alnternatives to jail, including mental health intervention and a “crisis assessment center,” said criminal justice coordinator Gary Darling. After the county jail inmate count rose from 105 in 1983 to 513 in 2006, it has been brought back down to 465, Darling said. The daily jail cost is $104 per inmate; other programs cost an average of $26 daily. Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County cut jail admissions 30 percent by using various techniques, including a better “risk assessment instrument” to help judges gauge which defendants could be safely released. County judges now base decisions on risk not a defendant’s ability to post a bond, he said. For more information on risk assessment tools, see alleghenycourts.us and pretrial.org.