Will the Mass Bail Out Movement Prod Reforms?

Last October’s well-publicized bailout of 105 New Yorkers who were awaiting trial is now history. But a volunteer who participated says it underlines why changing America’s pretrial detention system should be a high priority.

It was called an irresponsible experiment or even lunacy, but the “mass bailout” organized last fall in New York City by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights (RFKHR) can claim some success.

The month-long Mass Bail Out Movement (MBO) last October attracted widespread press attention, as well as 1,200 volunteers and about $2 million in funding support to underwrite early release for 64 adult women and 41 high-school-aged males from the city’s Rikers Island facility and other county jails.

mass bailout

About 1,200 volunteers participated in the Oct. 18 mass bailout event. Photos courtesy Revolve Impact.

There are no plans to do it again, in New York City at least, but the effort to awaken Americans to the need for rethinking pretrial detention, and more specifically bail, is only just beginning.

The event was “a single, time-limited, collaborative action,” said Sierra Ewert, a Program Director at RFKHR, adding it was intended to “call attention to the unjust and inhumane system of money bail, model alternatives to pre-trial incarceration, and increase the pressure to close Rikers and pass the structural reforms needed to end wealth-based detention and unjust pretrial incarceration.”

That may sound over-ambitious, but the organization plans to work with coalitions such as #FREEnewyork led by Just Leadership USA and the #CLOSErikers campaign, as well as share lessons learned with partners engaging in bail outs as a tactic.

Updated reports on those bailed out are still pending as their cases remain open.

But critics are wasting no time to judge the results of the MBO and downplay the significance of what actually happened. The New York Post called attention, for example, to the numbers of those bailed out who did not show up for their court dates.

These are the facts that observers tend to focus on. They are tangible, measurable, and a means through which the movement can be either praised or condemned.

But focusing on the individuals affected is the wrong way to look at what happened last year.

The target is the system itself—and the issue at the top of the agenda for all Americans is to reform how individuals awaiting trial are handled by our justice system—an effort which is now getting broad bipartisan support across the country.

See also: “End of Pretrial Growth Era in Sight, says Advocate

I was one of the volunteers for MBO, and my experience underlines why this movement demands expansion.

I spent a morning at the Brooklyn House of Detention, a nondescript building in Brooklyn, N.Y., situated on Atlantic Avenue, one of the borough’s main streets. With its windows covered in black paint, the building sits across from a Michaels store, an outlet of a retail chain that sells yarn, beads and other accessories to hobbyists.

It makes for an ironic counterpoint, as if the first stop for those recently released will be to pick up yarn for their knitting project later that day.

I waited in the room where individuals wait for surety forms to be processed or for released inmates to receive their belongings. Uncomfortable and horribly lit, against one wall of the room there’s a wooden bench. Lining another one are three school-like plastic chairs, one of which has a black shoelace that has collected enough dust to suggest it had been there for some time.

The stride and demeanor of each person who walks into the room makes obvious which window is being visited.

The woman bailing someone out keeps her friend on speaker phone during the 45 minutes she waits for her bail to be processed. She clutches a white crinkled envelope, struggling to manage holding her phone, purse and Mountain Dew. A few hundred-dollar bills peek from inside the envelope. It seems like she’s done this before.

But few in the room are able to adopt the woman’s seemingly nonchalant attitude.

There’s a young man, for instance, who is growing increasingly frustrated as he waits. He has a job interview at 12:00 pm, and it’s already 11:00. He paces the small room as the woman behind the property pick-up window dispassionately tells him no, he cannot have his driver’s license back at this time.

The woman posting bail does not look up as he begins to raise his voice. She speaks louder into the phone so that her friend can hear her clearly. After some time he leaves with no ID and a cancelled job interview, exasperated and too frustrated to contest further.

A few minutes later she is called to slip her white envelope under the window and leaves too.

The room is quiet, apart from the sound of shuffled papers coming from the two women sitting behind their respective windows that stand less than six feet from each other. Sunlight streams through the window of the door and the warmth feels out of place.

A Symbol of Freedom and Imprisonment

This room is a symbol of freedom and imprisonment: a space where one can come to free their loved ones from the jail of poverty as well as the place where those same loved ones come to collect their belongings.

And long after the mass bailout movement has ended, the anomalous existence of this room keeps on.

New York City’s pretrial population averages about 7,500. Over half of this demographic is unable to afford bail.

The MBO was a reminder that poverty is criminalized in this country.

While the young man who was waiting for his papers may have received a temporary reprieve, he still missed his job interview—making his chances of escaping the poverty that was a factor in his brush with the law slim.

He missed what might have been his first and best chance at moving past his incarceration. And he missed it because, as the woman behind the window impatiently explained to him, he did not have the paperwork or parole officer’s permission to get his driver’s license back—as if a driver’s license is correlated to crime, as if the woman behind the window and the parole officer assigned to him had the right to withhold his identity.

Olivia Heffernan

Olivia Heffernan

Immediate freedom may be bought in this small room, but the residual consequences of being justice-involved remain bleak.

The MBO made clear that the status quo can be challenged. But it will take a lot more than one-time events to end the injustices visible in that room, and beyond that, to end a system of money bail and pretrial detention that harms everyone it touches.

Olivia Heffernan is a graduate student at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), where she studies human rights law and journalism.  She also works part time at the Marshall Project and the Columbia Justice Lab. Visit her website at: livheffernan.com.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Reducing Cash Bail for the Poor: First Step in Solving the Rural Jail Crisis?

After a report criticized his court for setting high money bonds that resulted in a “bloated” local jail population, Kentucky Circuit Court Judge Darren Peckler changed course.

Enic Anderson spent 73 days in a rural Kentucky jail because he couldn’t come up with the required 10 percent of the $5,000 money bond set by the judge in a case of second-degree criminal abuse—a Class D felony.

But in an October court appearance, Boyle County Circuit Court Judge Darren Peckler agreed to lower the percentage to 5 percent. Anderson was out of jail the next day, after paying the $250 and a $25 bond filing fee, for a total of $275.

It was a small but telling victory in a long-standing nationwide struggle to reduce the burden of money bail for poor defendants in rural areas.

A study commissioned by Boyle and Mercer counties’ fiscal courts singled out Judge Peckler’s court for “discriminatory” bond practices and lethargic case-processing times that had resulted in “bloated” numbers of inmates in the local jail.

“The jail is greatly bloated by three factors: (1) very slow felony case processing, (2) an apparent refusal to set non-financial bonds, (3) a very high incidence of revocation of initial bonds and rearrest after being indicted by grand jury,” the report said.

Anderson’s attorney, Public Defender Jessica Buck, was quick to cite the study’s analysis in favor of her client.

She argued in her motion asking for an unsecured bond that individuals like Anderson should not be re-incarcerated, once they were successfully out on bond, simply because they have been indicted by the grand jury. “Now, more than ever, the law and public policy supports the release of Mr. Anderson,” she wrote.

Anderson’s was one of multiple cases heard during Peckler’s Oct. 16 circuit court date where the judge sparred with public defenders over financial bonds. But the fact he’s out of jail now means Anderson’s case may also be part of a new trend in Peckler’s court that is leading to more defendants being released pretrial.

Anderson had been charged with first-degree wanton endangerment, a Class D felony, and lodged in the Boyle County Detention Center.

According to the charge against him, he was asleep at 10 a.m. on June 5, when “his 2-year-old son exited the residence and walked to an apartment complex, knocking on doors until (a resident) made contact with the child.”

$2,000 to Get Out of Jail

He was given a $20,000, 10-percent bond at the district-court level, meaning he would need $2,000 to get out of jail while his case was pending. At the district level, defendants are often given “bail credit” of $100 a day; after 19 days in jail, Anderson had $1,900 in bail credit. He paid $100 and a $25 bond filing fee and was released on June 23, according to court records.

A Boyle County grand jury then indicted Anderson in the case, but modified the charge to second-degree criminal abuse, also a Class D felony. Peckler set a new bond for Anderson at $5,000 cash. Anderson hadn’t done anything to violate the terms of his district bond, but he was re-jailed on Aug. 6.

Such cases appeared to form a pattern in bond decisions affecting the county’s poorest residents. Kentucky’s 50th Circuit and District courts, which handle cases for Boyle and Mercer counties, have offered defendants non-financial bonds at the lowest rates in the state for years, according to data from the state Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC).

According to data published by the AOC earlier in the year, defendants in Kentucky criminal cases were offered non-financial bonds — a chance to get out of jail while still considered innocent without paying money — about 39 percent of the time in 2017.

But in Boyle County, the rate was about 4 percent; in Mercer it was 7 percent.

The local study, compiled by consulting company Brandstetter Carroll at a cost of $75,000, said Peckler “consistently” sets cash bonds for everyone indicted on a felony charge — $5,000 for Class D felonies and $10,000 for Class C.

“Bail credit, surety bonds or release on own recognizance (ROR) bonds are not utilized in Circuit Court,” the study states. “… The judge is, in essence, acting as a magistrate to set bonds anew. In doing so, he is disregarding evidence of success of defendants who appeared in court and remained crime-free while out on pretrial release under bond set by the district judge.

“As a result, more defendants cannot afford the new bond.”

Public Defender Buck said she agrees with the study’s recommendation that Peckler’s court stop requiring new bonds for everyone indicted by a grand jury.

But she also acknowledged court precedent is clear that nothing is legally being done wrong when someone is re-arrested after indictment.

Nevertheless, she added, “I don’t think that anybody who is successfully out on their bond conditions out of district court should be re-arrested simply because they’re indicted by a grand jury.”

Anderson had been “compliant with all urine screening” required by his bond at the district-court level, she wrote.

Jail vs Work

Anderson petitioned Peckler from jail, saying he needed to “get back to work to support my family … and move forward in being a productive member of the community.”

Anderson, a self-employed handyman, was “obviously…unable to support his family while he was incarcerated and, being self-employed, it’s even harder to rebuild that,” said Public Defender Buck.

“The reputation you build in the community when you’re self-employed — and then all of a sudden, you disappear for two months or three months, it makes it harder for him to get jobs in the future.”

Buck said Anderson’s incarceration also made it harder for him to pay any child support he owes.

“I’m not sure what the community got from incarcerating Mr. Anderson for another two months,” she said. “I don’t see how it made the community safer or how it helped reunite Mr. Anderson and his children. It just seems like a waste of taxpayer money.”

Buck said she has witnessed the recent changes in bonds noted in the study firsthand.

“I will say that there have been significant changes lately, particularly in circuit court,” Buck said during an interview about the case against Anderson. “(October) was one of the first months that I had more people released … than stayed in custody (after their arraignments)”

The changes in Peckler’s courtroom may be reflected in the Boyle County Detention Center’s population, which has been in the 220s multiple days this month, after peaking at more than 400 inmates multiple times in 2017.

‘A Quieter Jail’

The impact on the county jail population has already been noteworthy.

“I guess there’s a lot of get-out-of-jail-free cards right now, I don’t know,” Jailer Barry Harmon told the Advocate-Messenger. “It’s nice. It sure makes a quieter jail.”

On Nov. 15, the population even dipped below the jail’s rated capacity of 220, hitting 217 inmates at about 10:30 a.m. An analysis of jail records by The Advocate-Messenger identified 27 inmates out of those 217 who were facing non-violent, non-sexual charges and being held on financial bonds at the circuit court level.

While the jail is rated to hold 220 inmates, the local study notes that the real “operational capacity is 176. Average daily populations exceeding 176 put the jail in a gray area with regards to constitutional rights.

“A jail’s operating capacity should accommodate the peak populations to ensure provision of constitutionally adequate levels of confinement, even when confinement is temporary or short-term,” the country report stated, adding that the jail has been “unable to accommodate peak populations for at least the past 16 years.”

The local study found that the combination of delays in case processing and the use of financial bonds in the 50th Circuit Court led to many defendants remaining in jail for the duration of their case, whether or not they posed a risk of failure to appear or committing a new crime.

“An estimated 80 percent of low-level felony defendants who receive a one-year sentence will have served a ‘state year’ (about seven months) at time of sentencing,” the report states.

“The answer to the question of ‘Why does this happen?’ may lie in the discriminatory manner in which bonds are set, i.e. economically-able defendants are able to post bond, while the less affluent stay in jail.

“The fact that the poor stay in jail does not mean that they are greater risks for failure to appear or of committing new offenses while on pretrial release. Many court cases and a volume of research attest to the discriminatory nature of blanket application of secured (financial) bonds.”

The study’s recommendations included adding another circuit court date every month, allowing circuit court defendants to enter pleas more than once a month and eliminating Peckler’s cap on the number of pleas he will hear each month.

When someone is arrested for an alleged crime and booked into a jail, a Pretrial Services officer conducts a risk assessment, according to Tara Blair, head of Kentucky’s Department of Pretrial Services.

Using Risk Assessments

The risk assessments are created using the Public Safety Assessment developed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) — an assessment based on years of research and evidence that has been validated using data from more than 2 million cases in Kentucky, Blair said earlier this year. The same assessment has been statistically validated in other jurisdictions, she added.

Kentucky’s Pretrial Services has used “an objective, statistically valid pretrial risk assessment since at least 2010,” according to the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy.

A 2014 study by LJAF found that Kentucky’s use of a pretrial risk assessment tool, called PSA-Court, allowed judges to “reduce crime by close to 15 percent among defendants on pretrial release, while at the same time increasing the percentage of defendants who are released before trial.”

During the first six months of using PSA-Court, Kentucky judges released 70 percent of defendants pending trial, up from 68 percent the previous four years, according to the study.

“What makes the increase in release notable is that it has not come at the expense of public safety; to the contrary, it has been achieved alongside a decrease in pretrial crime,” the summary states,” the study said.

“… The average arrest rate for released defendants has declined from 10 percent to 8.5 percent.”

The push for bail reform has some big names in Kentucky onside, including state Justice Secretary John Tilley and state Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr.

Tilley said earlier this year at a conference on rural incarceration that legislation to limit the use of money bail “still has momentum” in the commonwealth.

“The real opposition comes from judges who think they’re having their discretion removed in terms of a release decision — that there’s some risk instrument … some machine that tells me I’ve got to release this person,” Tilley said.

“… The research is very clear. The best decisions come from using science along with professional discretion. So I’ve tried to make sure judges understand nobody is suggesting they have to give up their discretion … use your common sense, you can deviate.”

This is a condensed and edited version of a report that appeared in the Advocate-Messenger as part of a series looking into jail reforms in rural Kentucky. Ben Kleppinger is a staff writer for the Advocate-Messenger and a 2018 John Jay Rural Justice Reporting Fellow. The complete story is available here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Reinventing Justice: Case Studies in New Thinking

Can local justice systems prevent people who shouldn’t be detained from ending up behind bars? Sometimes all it takes is smarter communications, according to a study of an electronic alert system devised by Durham County authorities in North Carolina—one of six case studies released by the Urban Institute on promising reforms underway around the U.S.

Can local justice systems prevent people who shouldn’t be detained from ending up behind bars?

Sometimes, all that’s required is a shift to improved communication models that “meet people where they are, clearly explain what they need to know to take action, and use persuasive and respectful language to overcome distrust,” according to an Urban Institute case study.

The study, part of a series highlighting innovative justice practices across the U.S. supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge Innovation Fund, examined reform efforts undertaken in North Carolina’s Durham County and California’s Santa Clara County.

Researchers found that a simple electronic alert system devised by Durham County that reminded people when they were due in court reduced the share of people who failed to appear for their scheduled court dates by six percentage points from September 2017 to May 2018.

And a so-called “No Cost Release” campaign in Santa Clara County made people aware that they were entitled under California statutes to alternatives to money bond —countering a “common perception among people booked in the jail that posting money bond was the way to get released before trial,” the study said.

Such relatively low-cost interventions that focused on upholding the rights of people at the pretrial stage helped “the people who are affected by the justice system the most,” the study said.

electronic alert

Durham County’s electronic reminder system alerts individuals of scheduled court dates

In Durham County, a significant proportion of individuals held in jail before trail were detained because they failed to appear for a designated court date. But county officials realized that most people aren’t aware that a “Failure to Appear” (FTA) finding triggers an automatic issuance of a warrant for arrest under North Carolina law.

In order to reduce the number of people held on FTAs—and the associated costs to county authorities—officials developed a simple automatic online reminder system which reduced the paperwork and time that staff were otherwise spending trying to reach people on the phone, the study said.

Since the program was launched in June 2017, the number of FTAs dropped from 10 percent of the people who signed up for the system in September 2017 to 4 percent in May, 2018, the county reported. At the same time the share of people who didn’t sign up for the reminder system and failed to appear remained constant, at around 7 percent, from September 2017 to May 2018.

Similarly, the jail system in Santa Clara County, which includes the city of San Jose, has an average daily population of 3,400 in 2017. But many of those held pretrial were distracted by advertisements for bail bonds business at the jail, unaware that that they were entitled to a bonded release under California law.

So the county mounted what it called a “No Cost Release Campaign” that emphasized alternatives available for those detainees who qualified: own recognizance (OR) which allowed for a detainee’s release on the condition that he or she will return to court of his or her own volition; and supervised own recognizance release program (SORP), which had the added condition of being supervised by a pretrial officer.

just ask

Santa Clara County’s “No Cost Release” campaign makes individuals aware of alternatives to money bonds.

The campaign was strengthened by county Pretrial Services officers who came to the jail every day to interview interested people and assess their eligibility for OR/SORP release. The program aimed to make sure clients were aware of their release options before posting bail or being housed. The case study was conducted only a few months after the campaign was introduced in December, 2017—so only preliminary conclusions were available; but researchers said the effort, which included seeking out former pretrial clients to discuss their experiences on a promotional video, was promising.

Intimate Partner Violence

Another Urban Institute case study of best practices found promise in a pretrial strategy for handling intimate partner violence cases in Buncombe County, NC.

“Criminal justice system actors tasked with responding to violence between intimate partners are grappling with how to effectively secure victims’ safety while ensuring that those who use violence are held accountable and put on a path to change their abusive behavior,” said the authors of that case study.

 Prompted by a spike in fatalities caused by abusers released into the community on their own recognizance, Buncombe County was one of the first U.S. counties to develop and pilot a specialized pretrial protocol designed to supervise pretrial-release individuals charged with being be the instigators of intimate partner violence (IPV).

The county’s pretrial services office established a “multi-pronged mechanism” to manage the risk of violence when an aggressor is released into community.

Under the mechanism, every aggressor released into the community through pretrial services was required to call in once a week, and contact escalated in frequency based on a risk assessment of potential threat. At the same time, pretrial services shared the conditions of an aggressor’s terms of release with victims, helping to reduce “victim and family anxiety around the pretrial release of potentially high-risk partners.”

One case manager reported that the tool helped her talk to victims “in a way that she [the victim] feels free to express herself of how fearful she is,” adding “it makes me acutely aware that we’re in a position to make things fair on both sides.”

 Early analysis of the program showed that it resulted in a drop in the use of detention as a single intervention for IPV aggressors; the number of IPV cases assigned to pretrial supervision in the community also increased 6 percent.

The Safety and Justice Challenge Innovation Fund was designed, according to its website, “to create space for 20 jurisdictions to “test bold and innovative ideas on how to safely reduce the jail population while maintaining or enhancing public safety.”

 Other case studies in the series looked at:

  • “Front-end diversion” programs instituted by Deschutes County, Oregon, to help people suspected of possession of a controlled substance avoid prison time; and by Summit County, Ohio, to issue summonses in lieu of a custodial arrest for people facing nonviolent, low-level felony charges.
  • Data integration programs developed by Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County, Pennsylvania;, and the City and County of San Francisco, California, aimed at bringing together information from both criminal justice and non-justice sources systems to help courts, police departments, sheriff’s departments, prosecutors and defenders coordinate their decision-making;
  • “Interface” programs using the so-called “Sequential Intercept Model” in Colorado, South Dakota and Washington State to guide justice authorities in meeting the behavioral health needs of justice-involved individuals.

Detailed descriptions of the Urban Institute case studies released so far can be accessed here.

See also: The Challenges of Prison Alternatives for Women in Rural Communities

Stephen Handelman is editor of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Why I Helped Bail Someone Out This Week

This week, the Robert F. Kennedy Foundation began a month-long “mass bailout” project in New York aimed at highlighting the inequalities of a system that forces the poor to remain behind bars before trial simply because they cannot afford money bail. Local DAs fumed, but a former NYC probation commissioner explains why he decided to participate.

This week, my wife Grace and I participated with a group of volunteers in the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights “mass bailout” project. Several colleagues have asked me why I, a former probation commissioner once responsible for supervising some 30,000 New Yorkers, joined the controversial project.

Public safety is obviously a concern of mine, along with equity and fairness. So I believe an even-handed explanation is in order.

Vincent Schiraldi

Vincent Schiraldi

The widespread use of money bail is a subject of growing debate. Should people accused but presumed innocent of crimes be jailed, released on their own recognizance, released under supervision, or required to post bail?

And what role should personal wealth have in who is jailed and who goes free?

In New York State, courts can only consider an individual’s likelihood of appearance in determining whether to set bail and at what amount. This is where it gets tricky. A million dollars’ bail is prohibitive for most defendants—as even $1,000 or $2,000 can be.

Not so for a wealthy defendant accused of serious sex crimes like Harvey Weinstein who was immediately able to post $1 million bail and be released.

The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Presumably, the bail set on the defendants that RFK is bailing out is to assure their appearance, not to detain.

If judges want to detain someone accused of a serious crime, they can remand them.

As such, understanding how often defendants released before trial appear in court is crucial in assessing the viability of the RFK bailout.

Even though New York City has a very high rate of pretrial release compared to other jurisdictions, three-quarters of those incarcerated in our city’s jails are held pretrial.

Yet, when defendants are released, they almost always faithfully appear. Ninety-six percent of people accused of felonies who are released pretrial appear either at their assigned court date or within 30 days of it. Their four percent failure to appear rate is half the eight percent failure rate of persons accused of misdemeanors.

To aid decision-makers, persons accused of crimes in New York City are scored on a risk assessment instrument that recommends release or detainment. Yet, even those not recommended for release appear eight out of ten times at their scheduled court dates, and nine out of ten times within a month.

Skin in the Game

Some have raised concerns that high appearance rates only happen because defendants or family members have “skin in the game” via bail. Several non-profit bail funds in New York City bail out people accused of misdemeanors with whom they have no relationship. By forming a personal bond and accessing social services for those they bail out, these organizations achieve court appearance rates of around 90 percent.

So the vast majority of people released from jail pretrial appear initially or soon thereafter; people accused of felonies appear more frequently than those accused of misdemeanors; and people bailed out by strangers at a bail fund have high appearance rates.

Even though public safety is not a legally authorized consideration in setting bail in New York, it is obviously on people’s minds. Queens District Attorney Richard Brown deemed the bailout “clearly a threat to public safety.” Critics also included Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance and New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill.

While people are unable to commit crimes in the community during their incarceration, this must be weighed against the impact jail has on their likelihood to offend upon release.

The Arnold Foundation reports that as little as 48 hours in pretrial detention increases post-release rearrests. The Center for Court Innovation found that individuals sentenced to New York City jails have a greater likelihood of rearrest in every risk category when compared to a similar population of defendants not jailed.

As we consider the public safety impact of bailing out youth, several factors are important to take into account. Youth are particularly susceptible to abuse in adult correctional facilities.

Rikers Island

Rikers jail complex, New York City. Photo by Formulanone via Flickr

Rikers Island has a long and troubled history of violence and abuse in its adolescent units. As far back as 1972, the city’s jail oversight body, the Board of Correction, wrote that, “the [adolescent] facility is the worst prison in the city.” Four decades later, when the U.S. Department of Justice investigated Rikers Island, their 2014 report decried a “deep-seated culture of violence” in the adolescent unit.

This has a profound impact on young people who are incarcerated. National research reveals that youth under age 18 are 400 percent more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult jails and 36 times more likely to commit suicide than youth in juvenile facilities. Even in juvenile facilities, one out of eight youth reported being sexually assaulted in the previous year.

Even though 16- and 17-year-olds were recently moved out of Rikers Island into facilities run jointly by the Department of Correction and Administration for Children’s Services, youth are particularly vulnerable to the negative influences of other peers in correctional settings and are especially damaged psychologically by incarceration.

This heightens the importance of using community-based supervision and treatment approaches in lieu of incarceration.

The city, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and non-profit organizations have already enacted a raft of reforms to safely reduce the number of youths and adults confined pretrial, ranging from reducing court delays, to assessing risk, to online credit card bail payment, to expanded supervised pretrial release. That is partly why, in a city of 8.6 million residents, there were only 86 16- and 17-year-olds in our jails on July 9, 2018.

Of those detained, it is important to note that the vast majority of youth do not end up being sentenced to state prison, either because their cases are dismissed, they are acquitted or they receive relatively short local jail sentences or probation. According to NYC data, 55 percent of 16-18-year-olds were released within 10 days, and only 4 percent were transferred to state prison.

So most of those bailed out by RFK would be released soon anyway, generally within a few months. The more serious cases are often remanded and therefore are unable to be bailed out by RFK.

So, to summarize, jail makes most people more, not less likely to reoffend; youth who are being bailed out are especially vulnerable during incarceration; and most of those being bailed would be out soon anyway.

Rapper Common

Rapper Common is one of the high-profile supporters of the mass bailout project. Photo by Luigi Novi courtesy Wikipedia

RFK is working with several of New York’s most highly-respected non-profit organizations to assist in the safe reentry of those they bail out. The Fortune Society, Friends of Island Academy and the Osborne Association regularly provide reentry planning for people returning from city jails and have been collaborating with RFK to help those being bailed out.

RFK has also established a “welcome center”—for now at the Fortune Society but soon to be relocated near the entrance to Rikers Island—where those released can be reoriented to the community and receive items like a Metro card and a cell phone so they can be reminded of their court dates.

New York Pushes the Reform Envelope

Since the mid-1990s, New York City has emerged as a national criminal justice reform leader, cutting its incarceration rate by more than half, while crime has continued to plummet. That has allowed Mayor Bill de Blasio to announce the planned closure of Rikers Island, something unthinkable even a few years ago.

We did not get here by being cavalier with jail releases, but by experimenting with a range of reforms in one of the most vibrant and thoughtful justice communities in the country. That work positions us now as both the safest and least-incarcerated big city in America, something in which we should take great pride.

The RFK mass bailout is pushing that envelope.

Like experiments before it, it is not without risk or imperfections, but it has been done thoughtfully and with a strong data and theoretical backing. The bailout will soon provide additional data on how effective and fair bail is as a public policy, if we have the wisdom to assess it fairly.

I chose to join rather than criticize from the sidelines because I truly believe that in America, we need to separate wealth from liberty. Our system of money bail badly fails to do so, contributing to an environment in which 96.6 percent of the adolescents we confined on July 9, 2018 were youth of color and more than half are diagnosed as mentally ill.

That is an appalling reality that demands bold but reasoned action, not equivocation.

And that is why I helped bail someone out this week.

Vincent Schiraldi, co-director of the Columbia University Justice Lab and a Senior Research Scientist at the Columbia University School of Social Work, served as NYC Commissioner of Probation between 2010-2014. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Will New CA Bail System Be Worse Than The Old One?

Some criminal justice reformers argue that, as a public defender says, the state’s new law “doesn’t actually change the racist system of mass incarceration. It just expands it.”

Criminal justice reformers call the courts’ reliance on money bail unjust: The wealthy can buy pretrial freedom, while the poor are stuck behind bars or get pressured into taking a plea deal. California is becoming the largest state to abolish money bail, but many of those who’ve pushed for bail reform say the new system may be worse than the old one, reports NPR. “I was disappointed and I felt betrayed,” says public defender Chesa Boudin in San Francisco. He says the new law “doesn’t actually change the racist system of mass incarceration. It just expands it.” The law was passed in response to a state court decision declaring the cash system an unconstitutional denial of due process. Now, instead of setting bail, a judge will use a computer program to help determine if a suspect is a low, medium or high risk for flight or to public safety.

Boudin believes the new law would dramatically expand the number of people who will be detained pretrial. One section is so broadly worded it could encompass anyone for any offense. “Under this law prosecutors have the discretion to seek pre-emptive detention of a person with no criminal record charged with a low level misdemeanor,” he says. John Raphling of Human Rights Watch is concerned that the law replaces the coercive power of money bail detention with the coercive power of pretrial detention to force more onerous plea deals. That may pressure minorities and the poor to plead guilty to lesser crimes, regardless of their actual guilt. The American Civil Liberties Union and more than a dozen other legal groups raised similar concerns. The new law could “lead to an increase in pretrial detention and that gives way too much power to judges and to prosecutors,” said the ACLU’s Udi Ofer.

from https://thecrimereport.org

The ‘Legal Culture’ That Blocks Rural Jail Reform

A Circuit Court judge’s reluctance to adapt reforms to money bail and other court procedures stands in the way of reducing jail overcrowding in rural Kentucky, according to a study commissioned by two county governments. 

The nation’s rural jails face a systemic problem of overcrowding that is usually blamed on lags in jail construction or outdated facilities, but a recent report in Kentucky has placed the responsibility squarely on a single circuit-level judge.

A comprehensive study of the criminal justice system in Boyle and Mercer counties—located in the middle of the state—singled out the “discriminatory” bond practices and lethargic case-processing times at Kentucky’s 50th Circuit Court as the source of the problems at the Boyle County Detention Center.

The jail is stuffed with pretrial felony defendants who can’t afford their bonds and must wait months to resolve their cases, according to the blunt assessments of consultant Dr. Allen Beck in chapter two of the 106-page “Jail and Justice System Assessment.”

The report, which is still in draft form, was commissioned by Boyle and Mercer counties to help them address the jail’s constant overcrowding and ballooning budget. Consultants hired by Brandstetter Carroll have gone over tens of thousands of documents and jail records and conducted dozens of interviews with people involved in the local criminal justice system at every stage — except, notably, not with any judges.

“Unfortunately, the Circuit Court Judge (Darren Peckler) refused to participate in the study and prohibited the District Court Judge (Jeff Dotson) from participating,” the report states.

Darren Peckler

Chief Circuit Court Judge, Kentucky, Darren Peckler.Photo courtesy The Advocate Messenger

Beck’s assessment in chapter two points a finger squarely at many practices of 50th Circuit Court Judge Peckler. It blames Peckler’s practices of requiring cash bonds; setting limits on the number of pleas he will hear; revoking bonds when defendants are indicted; and not offering bonds to participants in a new “rocket docket” program, among other things.

“The analysis in this chapter disclosed that case processing issues in the circuit court has been a major contributor to jail overcrowding. Resolution of some issues may be easier than others,” the chapter’s conclusion states.

“… Of all of the recommendations in the entire project report, those in this chapter have the greatest potential to substantially reduce the jail population.”

Non-Financial Bonds

The use of financial bonds — requiring defendants to pay money to leave jail — is a major contributor to the jail’s population, the report finds. Data in the report from Kentucky’s Administrative Office of the Courts shows that defendants in Boyle and Mercer counties are able to leave jail without paying money at far lower rates than in comparison counties selected for the study.

Judges in Clark County, on the other side of Lexington, let defendants out on non-financial bonds 18 percent of the time over the last eight years, according to the data. In Woodford County to the north, it was 25 percent; in Harlan County in eastern Kentucky, it was 55 percent. In Boyle County, it was four percent; in Mercer, three percent.

The data show non-financial bonds have been all but unused in the 50th Circuit Court, even though “research shows that financial/secured bonds are no more effective than non-financial bonds,” the report states.

“It is difficult to avoid coming to the conclusion that the circuit court judge does not believe in non-financial bonds,” the report reads.

The report does note a “major decline in the jail population in the last several months,” which it attributes to the public defender’s office and defense attorneys “advocating for the pretrial release and use of non-financial bonds during circuit court arraignment.”

“It is not uncommon for changes in court-related practices to begin changing during criminal justice system studies,” the report states.

“The increased attention on case processing can act as a stimulus for members of the system to reconsider habits and expectations that have become ingrained in how they process cases and interact with the court.”

Despite the recent improvement, the report says there is still a “local legal culture in which members reinforce their belief (in financial bonds) through interaction with each other.”

“There is a glaring issue that must be addressed. That issue is the belief that the amount of money bail controls behavior. This belief is not only reflected in the actions of the circuit court judge, but in other members of the criminal justice system,” the report reads.

“… It is a strong dynamic that sometimes is only overcome by replacing the players. Rather than advocating their replacement, the consultant recommends bringing in one or more informed persons from the Pretrial Justice Institute to make a presentation or hold a workshop for criminal justice officials on this issue.”

According to the Pretrial Justice Institute, “unsecured (non-financial) bonds are as effective at achieving public safety as are secured (financial) bonds.”

Financial bonds also do not improve appearance rates in court, while non-financial bonds “free up more jail beds,” according to a study by the institute.

The Brandstetter Carroll report also notes that financial bonds can be “discriminatory” because “economically able defendants are able to post bond, while the less affluent stay in jail.”

“Many court cases and a volume of research attest to the discriminatory nature of blanket application of secured bonds,” the report states.

Requiring cash from poor people to get out of jail can cause defendants to plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit in order to speed things up, the report states.

According to the Pretrial Justice Institute, “unsecured (non-financial) bonds are as effective at achieving public safety as are secured (financial) bonds.” Financial bonds also do not improve appearance rates in court, while non-financial bonds “free up more jail beds,” according to a study by the institute.

The Brandstetter Carroll report also notes that financial bonds can be “discriminatory” because “economically able defendants are able to post bond, while the less affluent stay in jail.”

“Many court cases and a volume of research attest to the discriminatory nature of blanket application of secured bonds,” the report states.

Requiring cash from poor people to get out of jail can cause defendants to plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit in order to speed things up, the report states.

Rocket Docket and Indictment

A January order signed by Peckler has limited the effectiveness of a new “rocket docket” program in Boyle County, the report finds.

The grant-funded rocket docket program is designed to expedite low-level drug and drug-related offenses and reduce “unnecessary incarceration time for low-level drug and drug-related offenders,” according to the report.

But Peckler’s order requires that if any defendant opted to participate in the rocket docket program, the county “shall issue a bench warrant with no bond until said case has been reviewed by the court.”

This order “seems to be counterintuitive” since defendants could be expected to be more compliant with bond conditions if they have the chance to resolve their cases more quickly, the report states.

“On the other hand, this order is in keeping with the judge’s practice of revoking the release of all felony defendants after being indicted by the grand jury, regardless of their success in compliance with release conditions.”

As a result of Peckler’s order, the rocket docket program “has been very minimally utilized,” according to the report. “Interviews with attorneys in Boyle County found that they discourage their clients from pursuing the rocket docket option.”

rural jail study

Jail consultant Dr. Allen Beck presents draft findings from a “Jail and Justice System Assessment” to officials from Boyle and Mercer counties. Photo by Ben Kleppinger/The Advocate-Messenger.

The public defender’s office estimates that “about 80 percent of felony cases in Boyle County could potentially be rocket docket cases since they fall into the non-violent, non-sexual Class D category,” according to the report.

Peckler’s practice of setting new bonds for defendants after indictment is another target of the report.

In the 50th Circuit Court, after a grand jury issues an indictment, “the circuit court judge rejects most or all previously set bonds by the district court judge” and sets new bonds, typically of $5,000 cash for a Class D felony and $10,000 cash for a Class C felony, according to the report. “… The judge is, in essence, acting as a magistrate to set bonds anew.

In doing so, he is disregarding the evidence of success of defendants who appeared in court and remained crime-free while out on pretrial release under bond set by the district judge. As a result, more defendants cannot afford the new bond.”

The report continues, noting again the advocacy by defense attorneys in recent months for more non-financial bonds.

“The attorneys have addressed Kentucky Court Rules that emphasize pretrial release and the use of non-cash bonds,” the report reads. “As a result, the circuit court judge has altered his pattern of setting bonds.”

Case Processing

The report also documents numerous ways in which circuit court policies slow down the processing of criminal cases, in many cases causing defendants to wait in jail for a month or more before an appearance.

There is only one plea day set every month and “the judge sets a cap of 25 cases in the morning and 25 in the afternoon,” the report states.

“If the number of defendants exceeds that number, the defendant has to wait another month. In some instances, heavy caseloads have resulted in waiting for two months.”

After a defendant is charged, they must be arraigned. In Boyle and Mercer, there’s one arraignment date every month. But someone arrested shortly before that arraignment date isn’t allowed to be arraigned right away; they have to wait for the next month’s arraignment.

There were people arrested after May 31 this year who were not on the June docket and had to wait until July 3 for arraignment — “a delay of 32 days,” the report explains.

The circuit court further slows down the process by not transporting incarcerated defendants for every status hearing in their case, according to the report:

“If defendants were present for all court hearings, negotiations could occur continually in the courtroom as the docket progressed. That would result in many cases being resolved at that time.

However, under current court practice, jail inmates are not brought to court for status hearings. As a result, nothing other than continuances occur. To accommodate all individuals on the docket being present for all hearings, court sessions would need to be held more frequently and the judge would have to be willing to work past five o’clock on some occasions, which is a common practice in other jurisdictions.”

The report makes seven recommendations for changes concerning criminal case processing.

They include:

  • the Pretrial Justice Institute should be brought in to address use of non-financial bonds;
  • the no-bond requirement for the rocket docket program should be ended;
  • “The revocation of bonds set by the district court after grand jury indictment should be substantially altered, if not dropped as a practice;”
  • the circuit court should add a new court date each month to allow for faster processing;
  • the circuit court should allow defendants to enter pleas at any time, instead of only on specific court dates — or at least add additional plea dates;
  • the circuit court should no longer limit the number of pleas it will hear to a specific quota; and
  • the circuit court should transport all defendants who are in jail for all court hearings so in-court negotiations can happen more frequently.

The report notes similar problems with non-financial bonds and case-processing speeds at the district court level, but finds that misdemeanor defendants make up a smaller portion of the jail population and have their cases resolved more quickly.

“Detention of persons charged with misdemeanor offenses has a much smaller impact on the jail population.”

The Advocate-Messenger offered Judge Peckler a chance to respond to the findings in the report.

Ben Kleppinger, a staff writer for The Advocate-Messenger, is a 2018 John Jay Rural Justice Reporting Fellow. This slightly edited and condensed version of the original published article is the second in a series of reports on the Kentucky jail system prepared for his Fellowship project. The first report is available here. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Federal Judge Orders Reform of Dallas County Bail System

In a major victory for civil rights groups, U.S. District Judge David Godbey banned Dallas County from using a predetermined schedule to set bail .without considering alternatives that would allow the suspects’ release from jail.

In a major victory for civil rights groups, a federal judge banned Dallas County from using a predetermined schedule to set bail without considering alternatives that would allow the suspects’ release from jail, the Dallas Morning News reports. Though U.S. District Judge David Godbey’s order is temporary, his ruling Thursday indicated that the groups that sued the county “are substantially likely to prevail on the merits.” Godbey wrote that the policy of setting bail without regard for a defendant’s ability to pay violated the constitutional rights of arrestees to equal protection under the law. “Wealthy arrestees — regardless of the crime they are accused of — who are offered secured bail can pay the requested amount and leave. Indigent arrestees in the same position cannot,” the judge said.

Godbey ordered Dallas County to provide suspects booked at its jail with an individual hearing within 48 hours if a magistrate judge doesn’t release them after they’ve indicated they cannot afford bail. Under the judge’s order, an impartial decision-maker — likely a magistrate judge — must make an individual assessment of whether an amount of bail or an alternative condition provides sufficient guarantee that the suspect will appear in court. The suspect must have a chance at the hearing to provide evidence in his or her favor, and to dispute evidence provided by law enforcement. If the decision-maker declines to lower the bail from the prescheduled amount, he or she must provide “factual findings” explaining the reasoning. In January, four nonprofits filed a federal lawsuit alleging the county jail’s cash bail system unfairly harmed poor people and violated the Texas and U.S. constitutions. Officials had pledged to reform the system after the Morning News published an article on a woman jailed on $150,000 bond for a $105 shoplifting charge, but the nonprofits said the system didn’t change.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Could New CA Bail Law Doom $2 Billion National Industry?

Reform in California, which holds about a quarter of the market, could prompt other states to take similar action, bail groups and lobbyists said. Bail associations are seeking signatures to put on the ballot a referendum in an attempt to block the law.

California bail agents are working to process a new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown that could decimate their industry. The new system, which would virtually eliminate payment of money as a condition of release, could spell doom not only for bail agents, bounty hunters and surety companies across the state, but also a $2-billion bail industry nationwide, the Los Angeles Times reports. Reform in California, which holds about a quarter of the market, could prompt other states to take similar action, bail groups and lobbyists said. A day after Brown signed the bill, bail associations filed a voter referendum in an attempt to block it, asking for support from the very criminal justice groups and activists they’ve long been at odds with.

Some agents are scrambling to find new careers, closing up shop or weighing whether to move their businesses out of state. In Los Angeles County, home to the nation’s largest jail system, Lipstick Bail Bonds co-owner Teresa Golt expects to see storefronts shutter up and down bail row. The new law grants greater power to courts and probation departments to decide who should remain incarcerated ahead of trial. Under the new system, many people will be let go solely on a promise to return to court, while others could be placed on monitoring devices or remain incarcerated without any possibility of release under a practice known as “preventive detention.” The American Bail Coalition has three months to gather 366,000 signatures needed to qualify the referendum for the November 2020 ballot. Some in the business warned that as bail companies and sureties attempt to stay afloat, some agents could write more bonds and aggressively collect on debts in a final push for profits before industry extinction.

from https://thecrimereport.org

How ‘Bail Disruptors’ Help Tulsa Jail Inmates

The national Bail Project has helped 1,500 people around the U.S. get out of jail pending disposition of their cases. It hopes to expand to 40 sites and bail out 100,000 more defendants.

Last year, public defender Robin Steinberg launched The Bail Project, a nationwide charitable fund for pretrial defendants who can’t afford bail. NBC News followed a group of Steinberg’s “bail disruptors” in the Tulsa County Jail and the inmates they’re helping. The project pays bail for defendants who can’t afford it and helps them make court dates. Disruptors have bailed out 1,500 people in the U.S. In the New York program from which the national project grew, more than nine out of 10 bail recipients have made all their court dates, and more than half have had their cases dismissed.

Over the next five years, Steinberg hopes to expand The Bail Project to 40 sites and bail out 100,000 more people. Rikki Lee Motes was an inmate in the Tulsa lock-up.
Driving a borrowed car, she had been pulled over and arrested for charges that included possession of methamphetamine and driving with a revoked license. Crying as the cuffs clicked into place, she worried about losing her job. Motes, who earned minimum wage and had piles of unpaid court fines and fees, resigned herself to the idea that she’d be fighting her case from behind bars. After Motes spent more than a week in jail, The Bail Project had paid her $1,500 bond. Behind  two dozen steel doors in the Tulsa County Jail are hundreds of men and women, many of them pretrial defendants, passing the time with e-cigarettes, the Bible, and romance novels. For 25 years, Oklahoma has maintained the highest rate of female incarceration in the U.S., locking up women at a rate twice the national average.

from https://thecrimereport.org

CA Agents Seek Statewide Vote on Law Halting Cash Bail

If backers gather enough signatures, the measure would appear on the November 2020 ballot, and the bail reform law would be put on hold. The law would eliminate a requirement that newly arrested defendants put up bail, in an amount based on the seriousness of the charges, to be freed while awaiting trial.

California bail agents worried for their survival are seeking to block a new law that would eliminate the cash bail system for defendants. An industry coalition launched a referendum drive seeking to give voters the final say, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. If backers gather enough signatures, the measure would appear on the November 2020 ballot, and the bail reform law would be put on hold. The law would eliminate a framework that requires newly arrested defendants to put up bail, in an amount based on the seriousness of the charges, to be freed while awaiting trial. Instead, individual judges will use assessments of defendants’ history to decide whether they are safe enough to release, potentially with government check-ins or a GPS monitor.

The cash bail system often keeps poor people in jail before trial because they can’t afford to pay their way out. More than 48,000 county jail inmates in California have not been convicted of a crime, and most of them are unable to post bail. States like New Mexico and New Jersey have scaled back cash bail in recent years, and California’s abolition of the system has heightened debate over the changes. Those in the bail bond industry, as well as some progressive organizations that wanted even stronger reforms, say the new law may keep more people in jail without the possibility of bail. Both sides agree that if the law stands, the industry is doomed. Assemblyman Rob Bonta, who co-authored the bill, said the current system is a job-killer for those who can’t afford bail and can’t get to work. The new system, he said, will create more jobs for those who work in pretrial services. The state Department of Insurance received 200 complaints about bail agents in 2015. About 3,200 bail agents are licensed in California.

from https://thecrimereport.org