Under a proposal by the Vera Institute of Justice, the city will be the first in the country to replace money bail and conviction fees— “the twin pillars on which money injustice stands”— with a fair system aimed at reducing the number of individuals held in pretrial detention.
The ruling comes in response to a suit filed by inmates who claim St. Louis is violating their constitutional rights by failing to weigh their ability to pay bonds, among other things, before jailing them.
The number of Cook County, Il., jail inmates dropped by more than 1,600 in the months after a mandate to set affordable bonds for criminal defendants, says Chief Judge Timothy Evans. Violent crime in Chicago dropped 8 percent during the same period.
Three years of criminal-justice reform progress that has cut the local jail population in half has hit a roadblock in a fight over ending cash bail without an algorithmic system of weighing defendants’ risk.
In 2014, North Carolina’s Mecklenburg County defied skeptics by adopting a pretrial risk assessment tool aimed at reducing the number of people in jail awaiting trial because they could not afford money bail. Other states should take note, write two reform advocates.
Both the prosecutor and defender advised pretrial release of Matthew Aldous, who was caught writing graffiti in the city’s historic district. But a judge set his bail at $10,000, effectively placing behind bars an individual who advocates said should have been diverted to mental health services.
New court-made rules will require Missouri judges to start with the presumption that no bail is needed. If bail is assessed, it should be just high enough to “ensure safety or the defendant’s appearance,” the chief justice announced.