Stephanie WhittExecutive Vice President
Nothing is more important to the American criminal justice system than the belief that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Our current pretrial system was created to ensure people who are awaiting trial are not a flight risk or a danger to the public. Yet, many Americans remain jailed while they await trial on charges yet to be proven, not because there is a risk that they will flee or threaten community safety, but because they simply cannot afford to post bail. Many of these people have only been charged with low-level, non violent misdemeanor crimes. Holding someone pretrial who cannot afford bail and who is not a threat to public safety has a domino effect on a person’s whole life. It keeps them from working, going to school, taking care of their children, etc. Besides the cost to the individual and community, it is also a tremendous cost to state and local governments. Pretrial release should not be based on an individual’s ability to pay; it should be based on that person’s public safety threat and flight risk.
Pretrial justice reform would allow people who are not a flight risk or threat to public safety to continue to make a living and provide for their families as they await their trial. This avoids the downward spiral of potentially losing their job, car, home, etc., all while saving taxpayers money by keeping people out of jail who do not need to be there.
What the Bill Does
SB409/HB1131 requires magistrates to document in writing their reasons for refusing to release a defendants on their own recognizance and makes that written finding subject to public record, so taxpayers know why someone is released versus issued bail. The bill retains judicial discretion in that a judge may still assess bail or add conditions of release such as GPS monitoring if he or she deems it necessary. Ultimately, this will allow low-level, nonviolent offenders who are not a threat to public safety to be released pending their trial, while maintaining our current bail system for everyone els