Maryland Debates Bail Reform: Should Freedom Link With Finances?


In a Baltimore court, Judge Nicole Pastore Klein worked swiftly to set the price of freedom for people accused of crimes. Attempting to disarm a police officer: $150,000. Burglary, resisting arrest and drug charges: $100,000. Cocaine possession: $25,000. The Baltimore Sun says some will go free within the day, while others sit in jail until their day in court. The distinction often has less to do with the size of their bail than their ability to pay it. Of the 3,000 people in pretrial detention at any one time, nearly 200 are stuck in jail on bail of less than $5,000 and state legislators are debating whether the long-established practice is the fairest way to decide who stays behind bars. Some defendants can’t post bail of $100.

Supporters call Maryland’s system efficient, allowing defendants who make bail to return quickly to their lives. Many find a company to put up bail, as long as they can pay a fee. That firm must ensure the defendant shows up for trial. Advocates for change argue that it is unfair to link freedom with finances. A state task force urged doing away with bail in favor of a system that evaluates only whether a defendant is a danger to the public or a flight risk. Four states and Washington, D.C., have made similar changes. Paul DeWolfe, who heads Maryland’s public defenders, said the current system doesn’t protect the community. “The cash bail system does one thing: It separates people who have money from those who don’t have money,” he said. “It almost doesn’t matter what kind of crime you commit if you have resources to post bail and get out.”

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