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Republicans In WI, Other States Seek To Restrict Bail Releases

Two days before he drove his SUV through a Christmas parade in suburban Milwaukee, killing six people and injuring more than 60, Darrell Brooks Jr. had posted bail for charges of domestic violence. He had been accused of using his SUV to run over the mother of his child. An assessment found Brooks at high risk of reoffending.


A court official set that bail at a mere $1,000 cash at the request of prosecutors, who later called their recommendation a mistake. For the parade killings, Brooks was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Brooks became the poster child for a Republican-backed push to enact tougher bail policies. The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature is asking voters to ratify a constitutional amendment that would make it harder for violent criminals to be freed on bail, the Associated Press reports.


GOP lawmakers in other states are seeking similar measures after branding themselves as tough on crime in the 2022 midterm elections. That has led to a fierce fight with Democrats over public safety and the rights of criminal defendants.


Democratic-led overhaul measures in states such as Illinois and New York have sought to eliminate cash bail and lessen pretrial detention on the premise they do more harm than good, especially to marginalized groups.


Republicans in at least 14 states have introduced 20 bills this year to do jhe opposite. Their proposals include increasing the number of non-bailable offenses, requiring more people to pay cash bail and encouraging or requiring judges to consider a defendant’s criminal record when setting bail.


Criminal justice experts and advocacy groups warn the Republican-backed measures aren’t supported by research and could worsen crime rates and disparities between rich and poor. Bail is meant to ensure a defendant returns to court and isn’t supposed to be a punishment, as the defendant hasn’t yet been convicted.


“Cash bail is not a benefit to defendants or to public safety,” said Shima Baradaran Baughman, a law professor at the University of Utah who studies bail. “When people are detained before trial even for a few days, they are dramatically more likely to reoffend later, In other words, it is much safer to the public to release most people before trial than to detain them.”


Defendants jailed before trial are much more likely to plead guilty to charges — often accepting deals that sentence them to time already served that end their detainment, researchers from Harvard, Stanford and Princeton found in a 2018 study. The study found higher unemployment rates for pretrial detainees after they’re released. It’s not uncommon for defendants who can’t make bail to lose their jobs and even their homes while in jail awaiting trial.


While Republicans seeking to widen the use of bail acknowledge people are legally presumed innocent before trial, some say they believe most defendants are ultimately guilty and that society would be safer if more are locked up.


Georgia Sen. Randy Robertson, a longtime sheriff’s deputy and former state president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he is “extremely confident” that most arrestees are guilty.


Still, Insha Rahman of the Vera Institute for Justice says, . “When you are setting money bail on all kinds of offenses and judges can’t release people, you are absolutely treading on presumption of innocence.”

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