Top Five Articles on Bail Reform Last Week
There is widespread agreement that the bail system is broken. Millions of people annually sit in local jails without conviction because they cannot afford bail, and 75% of pretrial detainees have been charged only with drug or property crimes. The effect is that bail needlessly causes people to lose their jobs, not be able to care for their children, and to lose contact with their loved ones. States like New Jersey and Connecticut have already transformed their systems, with the former eschewing cash bail altogether and the latter creating a presumption against bail for misdemeanors. Even elected head prosecutors, like Kim Foxx in Chicago and Kim Ogg in Houston, are coming out against the current bail system. Also in Houston, a federal judge ruled that Houston’s bail system is unconstitutional because it keeps people in jail only because they cannot pay. Oftentimes, the only group fighting to keep the system the same is the bail industry itself.
Here are the best five articles on the national move toward bail reform last week.
1. Taryn Finley, Kamala Harris Is Dedicating Her First Major Legislative Effort To Bail Reform, HuffPost
- Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) has prioritized criminal justice reform, introducing a bipartisan bail reform bill with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). The Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act would grant $10 million over 3 years to incentivize states to replace or reform their money bail systems and asks states to make individualized risk assessments. Harris has also recently spoken publicly about the rapid rise in the number of women in prison and the need for criminal justice reform.
See also: Kamala Harris and Rand Paul editorial in New York Times.
2. Nick Malinowski, Why is the Bronx District Attorney holding Pedro Hernandez at Rikers Island?, In Justice Today
- Eighteen-year-old Pedro Hernandez has been held at Rikers Island for nearly two years for a crime he most likely did not commit. Despite ample evidence of Hernandez’s innocence — including video indicating that he was at his mother’s house at the time of the crime, as well as several witness’ statements, including the victim’s, saying he wasn’t involved— Hernandez is being held on $250,000 bail. The Bronx DA apparently sees the weaknesses in the case by offering Hernandez a non-jail plea deal, which he has rejected — yet the DA won’t reduce his bail.
See also: Shaun King calling Hernandez “Rikers Island’s new Kalief Browder” at NY Daily News; Willie Burnley, Jr. discussing how “Hernandez’s case highlights the ways that the money bail system has a disproportionate impact on low- and even middle-class families” at ATTN.
3. Anita Chabria, Rapper Common plans free Sacramento concert to promote criminal justice reform, Sacramento Bee
- Common is planning to perform a free concert on Capitol Mall in Sacramento to raise awareness for bail reform and juvenile justice. The concert is a collaboration between Common and former Hollywood producer Scott Budnick as part of a three-day campaign that involves lobbying efforts and an additional concert for individuals incarcerated in state prison. After the Sacramento concert, Common and Budnick will meet with legislators to discuss SB 10, a bill to end California’s money bail system, as well as SB 394, a bill to allow early release for individuals sentenced to life without parole as juveniles.
See also: Fair Punishment Project alumnus Casey Tolan discussing how the bail bond industry thwarted efforts in the California state assembly to change money bail policies in The Mercury News.
4. Megan Crepeau, Judges ordered to set affordable bonds for defendants who pose no danger, Chicago Tribune
- In response to a class-action lawsuit filed last year over the setting of excessive bail, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans has signed an order detailing a new policy whereby judges must take into account a defendant’s ability to pay in making a bond determination. The policy also provides that there will be an interview in advance of the bond hearing to determine a defendant’s financial resource. Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx supports this change.
See also: Richard Oppel, Jr. writing about the decision for the New York Times; Larry Hannan detailing Chicago State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s support for bail reform in In Justice Today
5. Albert B. Kelly, 6 Months In, N.J. Bail Reform Is Working, NJ.com
- Prior to New Jersey’s 2017 bail reform initiatives, a defendant’s likelihood for pretrial release hinged almost entirely on his or her ability to pay bail — without regard for ensuring that the bail was set in proportion to the severity of the crime or the risk level of the defendant. Six months after the state enacted ground-breaking reform, New Jersey jail populations have declined by almost 20 percent. Approximately 87 percent of arrestees are now being “released under some level of monitoring” and only 13 percent detained for public safety reasons.
See also: PBS NewsHour interviews stakeholders in New Jersey and discusses how the state is leading the country in bail reform.