Bill Proposed To Remove Bail Setting For Some Defendants

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A Maine lawmaker has drafted a bill that if passed, would replace the state’s cash bail system with  a risk assessment model.

The bill is similar to one that was passed by New Jersey last year, he said, and could reduce the annual operating costs of many of the state’s lock ups; housing fewer inmates should, in theory, save taxpayers money.

The idea behind it is simple- free up some of the jails’ bed space by allowing low-risk, low-level offenders to be released without needing to post bail bonds.

Prosecutors disagree with that theory and say it’s a bad, bad idea.

Less likely to go to court

Defendants who are released without needing to post bail bonds have a much higher failure to appear rate than those who do, thy said, and when the failure to appear rate climbs, that leads to increased court administrative costs.  It also leads to an increase in warrants and that can strain the resources of police departments.

They believe that many of the state’s pre-trial inmates are behind bars for a reason; they have either re-offended or have violated their previous terms of release.

Law enforcement officials agree that while a bail, and jail reform is needed, this is not the way to do it.

Rewarding the rich, punishing the poor

Some allege the current bail system unfairly targets poor defendants, most of whom can’t afford to post bail.  When someone is charged with a low-level crime but can’t afford to post bond, they are often held behind bars for weeks or months on end.

This can lead to a loss of income and in many cases, the loss of a job. Proponents of bail reform say that passing it

The conversation surrounding reform

Another component of the mix relates to public safety; while freeing up bed space may save taxpayers some money there is concern that the mass release of pre-trial defendants could lead to upticks in crime rate.

On the other hand, county jails say they are expecting a mass budget shortfall before the close of 2015 and are already asking the legislature to support emergency funding for their facilities.   The governor said he doesn’t support the request.

The risk assessment proposal

Supporters of the bill say this won’t be a wide-reaching get out of jail free card for all pretrial defendants.  Each will need to be evaluated to determine whether their release will pose a risk to public safety and whether they are likely to return to court when they are supposed to.

Although it’s still too soon to know whether the bill will pass, supporters say that if nothing else, it’s spurred some healthy discussion.

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