On my drive home yesterday, I heard a news story on the radio. The report indicated that the Illinois Supreme Court had just upheld a law completely eliminating financial conditions of release in the Prairie State – apparently making it the first state in the country to abolish cash bail. The story didn’t detail the legal arguments at issue in the case, or even who had challenged the law. Given the national interest in bail reform, I thought the Illinois case might be a harbinger of things to come elsewhere, so I looked into it. This post briefly summarizes what I learned.
In January 2020, stakeholders in North Carolina’s Twenty-First Judicial District (Forsyth County) implemented a pretrial reform initiative designed to reduce unnecessary detentions of individuals charged with the lowest-level offenses. Specific attention was paid to those detained solely due to an inability to pay bail and not because of their risk to the community. To address this issue, local leaders developed and implemented a new structured decision-making tool for magistrates and judges to use when making bail decisions. Key elements of the tool include:
After former Chief Justice Mark Martin’s North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice issued its final report recommending that North Carolina embark on bail reform pilot projects, North Carolina Judicial District 30B launched the first such project. Judicial District 30B consists of two rural counties in Western North Carolina: Haywood and Jackson. Among other things, the district is not served by a public defender, has no pretrial services, and in one of the counties caseloads are such that District Court is not held daily. The collaborative pilot project was led by Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Bradley Letts and involved a broad range of stakeholders including the District Attorney, local defense lawyers, District Court judges, magistrates, clerks of court, police chiefs, representatives from the Sheriffs’ departments, and more.
We previously produced information about the prevalence of secured bonds at the state and county level. In this report we update that work with 2019 data and look at changes in the imposition of financial and non-financial conditions in North Carolina. A few key takeaways from our research:
I previously wrote (here) about the role of money bail in North Carolina and presented 2018 county-level data on the types of pretrial conditions imposed for misdemeanors. I got so many questions about that data that we have produced it in a more comprehensive and user friendly form. Our new downloadable Excel file (here) contains … Read more
In 2018, a national survey asked Americans what they thought of our pretrial justice systems. Their responses? Strong support for expanded pretrial release. The survey was done by a bipartisan team of pollsters on behalf of Pew Charitable Trusts. See The Pew Charitable Trusts, Americans Favor Expanded Pretrial Release, Limited Use of Jail (2018). Here are my top six take-aways from the survey, along with related survey data, explanatory text and graphs, which come directly from the Pew report (all attribution to Pew).
I have discussed elsewhere criticisms and concerns asserted regarding money-based bail systems. Among other things, it is argued that money-based bail systems undermine public safety by allowing dangerous but wealthy people to buy their way out of jail with no supervision, and—citing recent empirical research—that unnecessary incarcerations of low-risk people who cannot pay their bonds causes more crime once those people are released. It also is asserted that unnecessary wealth-based detentions of low-risk individuals are unfair, disproportionately impact people of color and inefficiently use taxpayer resources. Finally, some point to successful legal challenges to money-based bail systems as creating litigation risk. In light of those criticisms and concerns, it is natural to wonder: How big a role does money play in our state’s bail system? The answer: A lot.
A new report evaluates the impact of Mecklenburg County’s bail reforms. Cindy Redcross et al., MDRC Center for Criminal Justice Research, Evaluation of Pretrial Justice System Reforms That Use the Public Safety Assessment: Effects in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina (2019) [hereinafter Evaluation]. The big take away? Mecklenburg released more defendants but did not see a significant increase in failures to appear (FTAs) or new criminal charges during the pretrial period. Id. at 2. Read on for details.
In this post, part of a series on bail reform in North Carolina, I highlight reforms that have been implemented in Orange County, North Carolina. My goal in doing so is to provide models and points of contact for jurisdictions interested in these efforts. If you’d like your jurisdiction’s work highlighted here, please reach out to me.
Philadelphia’s recently elected district attorney implemented a No-Cash-Bail reform policy, providing that the district attorney’s office would stop asking for cash bail for defendants charged with 25 misdemeanor and felony offenses. A study of that policy change found, among other things, that it led to an increase in defendants released with no monetary or other conditions, a decrease in the number of defendants who spent at least one night in jail, but no accompanying change in failures to appear (FTAs) or recidivism. Aurelie Ouss & Megan Stevenson, Evaluating the Impacts of Eliminating Prosecutorial Requests for Cash Bail (George Mason Legal Studies Research Paper No. LS 19-08, Feb. 17, 2019). Those skeptical of eliminating cash bail have argued that taking a monetary incentive out of the system would result in higher FTAs and increases in pretrial crime. Id. at 5. The new study undermines those assertions.