States are trying to figure out what to do about cash bail. The system — in which arrested suspects pay cash to avoid sitting in jail until a court date and gets the money back when they appear — is deeply entrenched history as a way to ensure defendants return to face justice.
Cash bail is undergoing a reckoning as policymakers debate its effects on underserved communities and people with low incomes who sometimes can’t afford bail, as well as just how much the system truly keeps the public safe, Stateline reports.
This year some states such as Illinois and jurisdictions such as Los Angeles County and Cuyahoga County, Oh., scaled back their bail systems, sometimes even eliminating cash bail entirely for low-level offenses.
Policymakers in other places are moving in the opposite direction.
Republican in at least 14 states — including Georgia, Indiana, Missouri and Wisconsin — introduced about 20 bills this year aimed at increasing the number of non-bailable offenses and either encouraging or requiring judges to consider defendants’ criminal records when setting bail.
In New York state, where changes to curtail the use of bail took effect in 2020, lawmakers have made several rounds of rollbacks amid concerns about rising crime rates.
Some bail policy advocates argue that these changes contribute to racial and socioeconomic discrimination by relying on one’s ability to post bail and undermine the idea that those accused of a crime are presumed innocent until proved guilty.
“There’s no single answer to effective bail reform,” said Meghan Guevara of the Pretrial Justice Institute, a criminal justice advocacy group.
Measures to increase the use of cash bail or to include certain factors in assessing bail eligibility saw different levels of success. In Wisconsin, voters approved a constitutional amendment in April allowing judges to consider factors such as a defendant’s past convictions and the need to protect the public from bodily harm in “violent crime” cases.