Richmond Pushes Away from Cash Bail, Joining Trend

Michael N. Herring, the Virginia city’s top prosecutor, said his staffers will now recommend release without bail for most defendants. He said the cash bail system “strikes me as unfair” and does not ensure that accused criminals will appear in court.

Richmond, Va., has joined a growing number of American cities and states that are abandoning cash bail for many criminal defendants. The city’s Times-Dispatch reports that Richmond prosecutors will no longer seek cash bail bonds for many of those awaiting trial. In theory, the cash investment by defendants ensure their good behavior and their presence at trial. But Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael N. Herring said, “It strikes me as unfair, and it doesn’t ensure anything.” Prosecutors in his office are now instructed to make a good-faith assessment of a defendant’s risk to the community. “If they don’t believe the person poses an unacceptable risk of harm, then they are to recommend [to the judge] release with appropriate pretrial conditions,” he said.

If a prosecutor believes a defendant poses an unacceptable risk, then they are simply to recommend that the person be confined to jail, Herring said. Bill Farrar of the ACLU of Virginia said, “There’s plenty of anecdotal research to show that the cash bail system is slanted against people of color and people who don’t have the ability to pay.” Many states and cities have instituted bail reforms, although some are considering restoring cash bail in some instances after criticism that the reforms are too lenient.