Michael N. Herring, the Virginia city’s top prosecutor, said his staffers will now recommend release without bail for most defendants. He said the cash bail system “strikes me as unfair” and does not ensure that accused criminals will appear in court.
“They’re making decisions about someone’s freedom in secret,” says Elizabeth Rossi of Civil Rights Corps, one of several groups challenging Dallas County’s hearings that don’t allow family members or others to witness court proceedings on pretrial release.
As commercial bail has become a $2 billion industry, bail bondsman are the payday lenders of criminal justice, offering quick relief to desperate customers at high prices, the New York Times reports. Bondsmen keep a close eye on their clients, but who keeps a close eye on the bondsmen?
Progressive prosecutors and scientific pretrial release systems are reducing jail populations, say Jeremy Travis of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. New policies by newly elected Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner, including decriminalizing marijuana possession, were cited as examples.
In its first year, New Jersey’s historic bail overhaul slashed the number of people charged with minor crimes locked up until trial because they couldn’t post bail by 20 percent. Yet the system is “simply not sustainable” because it relies on court fees rather than the state budget, a report from the New Jersey judiciary says.
If you are released ahead of your trial date, you’re 14 percent less likely to be found guilty, according to an American Economic Review study. Compared to those who can’t make bail and are held in pretrial detention, your economic outlook is better too, researchers concluded in a study of court records in Philadelphia and Miami-Dade counties.
Critics, including bail bondsmen and County Commissioner Mike Cantrell, argue the proposed changes to the county’s pretrial release system based on risk assessment will flood the streets with drug addicts and criminals who would otherwise be in jail.
Harris County’s criminal justice system is clogged with a growing number of failures to appear, months after a federal judge ordered the release of indigent defendants who can’t afford to post bail. Officials said the releases pose a threat to public safety.
The lawsuit, which may end up carrying a hefty price tag, alleges that the system fails to consider a jailed defendant’s ability to pay to post bond, resulting in disparate treatment. Poorer citizens remain jailed for weeks or months because they can’t afford to pay their way out, while wealthier people can quickly purchase their freedom.