Bailed Out

Some significant and long-needed changes to our civil justice system have recently been proposed, most notably perhaps President Obama’s regarding the federal system. Some states are also making progress.

One proposed modification is part of a recent $130 million package in New York that would, among other reforms, allow for the release up to 3,000 low-risk defendants who would be placed under court supervision as they await trail.

Those who are released will be put under court supervision as they await their trial date(s). Subsequently, which defendants charged with low-level offenses were free pending trial would be determined based upon a consideration of the risk the defendants pose to society, rather than their ability to post bail.

While the exact criterion for inclusion in the program is still a matter of discussion, it will likely be formatted in a similar manner to systems already in place in jail systems in Milwaukee, WI and Portland, OR. This is progress.

Bail money’s intended purpose is to help ensure that those who are indicted of a crime show up to their court date(s) – bail is refunded when you do. In an effort to remind the newly released low-risk defendants of their court date(s) and ensure that they show up, depending on the extent of the crime that had previously been committed, some will now receive phone calls or text messages and some will receive in person visits. Both of these methods have been shown to be as successful at getting defendants into Court as bail in previous studies. In fact, “in Washington, D.C., which in the 1990s eliminated bail in most cases, nearly 90 percent of defendants return for their court day” [Nancy Fishman, project director at the Vera Institute] said.

Granting release to detainees based on the extent of the crime they committed rather than if they can pay bail or not will help to prevent loss of work, school, and even family time. This new modification to the legal system will help to prevent those who have committed petty crimes from spending unnecessary time behind bars. Mr. Rory Lancman, New York Councilman, stated it best, “Courts should use every tool in their kit to ensure that no defendant should await their proverbial ‘day in court’ sitting in jail merely because they can’t afford the price of their freedom.”

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