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.
Two changes in the law have led to a new phenomenon—the need for youth under the age of 18 to satisfy conditions of pretrial release while being confined in a juvenile detention facility. First, the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act (JJRA) raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction for offenses committed at ages 16 and 17 on or after December 1, 2019. The JJRA includes a broad mandatory transfer provision, requiring that many felony matters shift from juvenile to superior court jurisdiction. G.S. 7B-2200.5(a). When that happens, the rules of criminal procedure (including those governing pretrial release) apply rather than the rules for juvenile cases. Second, Part II of Session Law 2020-83 required that the few minors who continue to be processed as adults in the criminal system from the outset of their cases be held in juvenile detention instead of adult jails. The release of minors subject to criminal rather than juvenile jurisdiction is governed by the usual criminal process for setting and satisfying conditions for pretrial release. Those conditions sometimes require posting a bond. But juvenile detention facilities are not equipped to process bonds. So how does this work? This post will review the circumstances in which a youth confined in juvenile detention may need to post bond, the impediments to doing so, and potential ways to address those problems.
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
Suppose I told you that we could categorize defendants into six categories for risk of failure to appear (FTA) in court as required, with 1 being the lowest risk category and 6 being the highest. What is your guess as to the percentage of defendants who appear in court as required at risk level 1? At risk level 6? When I ask this question of North Carolina stakeholders, most guess that the percentage of defendants who appear in court at risk level 1 is about 50% and that the percentage who appear at risk level 6 is about 20%. They are wrong. Risk assessment validation done in North Carolina shows that 87.4% of risk level 1 defendants appear in court as required and that 61.2% of risk level 6 defendants do so. In fact, that validation shows that at all risk levels, a majority of defendants appear in court as required.
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.
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.
In a series of posts I’ve been discussing bail reform, including highlighting pilot programs underway in North Carolina. In 2018, I worked with stakeholders in North Carolina’s Judicial District 30B (Haywood and Jackson counties) to help them identify and implement a basket of pretrial reforms. One of the implemented reforms is a new decisionmaking framework for determining conditions of pretrial release. Key features of the framework include:
- An easily implemented, stakeholder-created tool to quickly identify low-risk defendants who immediately can be released on non-financial conditions.
- A requirement that decisionmakers follow the statutory mandate and impose non-financial conditions unless they determine that such release will not reasonably assure appearance; will pose a danger of injury to any person; or is likely to result in the destruction of evidence, subornation of perjury, or intimidation of witnesses.
- Recommended maximum bond amounts for secured bonds and the requirement that ability to pay be considered in connection with imposition of that form of release.
In my last post, I discussed some of the reasons why stakeholders are interested in bail reform. In this one I explore some of the changes that are being implemented and evaluated.
Bail reform is a hot topic in North Carolina. It was recommended by Chief Justice Mark Martin’s North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice (report here) and jurisdictions across the state are embarking on reform. In this post I discuss some of the reasons why stakeholders are interested in the issue. In a companion post, I discuss reforms that they are implementing and evaluating.