NCSL Pretrial Release Quarterly Newsletter

 

From the States

  • Last year, New Jersey implemented its “Criminal Justice Reform Law.” (S.B. 984, 2014) As part of this reform effort, pretrial release decisions are based on risk to public safety, rather than a defendant’s ability to post bail. The New Jersey Judiciary issued its one-year report outlining the law’s implementation and statistical results from the first year of operation.
  • The Maryland Office of the Public Defender released a new report based on the observations of 64 volunteers who observed bail review hearings across the state. Their observations noted progress, including a decrease in the use of money bail, but also highlighted areas of concern. The report contains four recommendations for making the pretrial process fairer.
  • The issue of pretrial release practices will be reviewed statewide in Colorado by the “Bail Blue Ribbon Commission.” The commission was recently established by retiring Colorado Justice Nancy Rice.

The Cache

 In the News

  • Called a “historic bail ruling,” on Valentine’s Day, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals mostly upheld a decision by Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, in which the judge found bail practices in Harris County, Texas, unconstitutional and unfair to misdemeanor indigent defendants.  In her decision last year, Chief Judge Rosenthal denounced the county’s bail practices as converting a defendant’s “inability to pay into an automatic order of detention.”
  • The Safety and Justice Challenge—supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation—released results of a nationwide poll on public perceptions regarding the roles of jails and local justice systems. Key findings include public opinion on appropriate treatment for, and response to, offenders identified as having a mental health disorder, as well as appropriate sentences for non-violent offenses.
  • The Idaho Senate Judiciary Committee voted to introduce legislation that would amend the Idaho Constitution to allow defendants accused of “dangerous crimes” to be held pretrial without bail.
  • California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced that his office will not appeal a state appellate court ruling that challenges California’s bail process (In re Humphrey). The appeals court held that trial judges must consider a defendant’s financial resources and ability to pay when setting bail, as well as any alternatives to money bail.
  • Under a Tennessee law, if a jail lacks needed medical or behavioral health resources for a pretrial detainee, a judge may transfer the detainee to the state for safekeeping. A special news report found that nearly all of the detainees were transferred to state prisons, some ending up in solitary confinement. The law will undergo legislative review.
  • The city of Denver—one of three communities nationwide selected as a Smart Pretrial site—created a video highlighting its pretrial practices and reform efforts, including using data and risk assessments in release and bail bond decisions.
  • Spokane City prosecutor Justin Bingham shares his thoughts on rethinking jails as part of the Safety and Justice Challenge and how that has required rethinking everything, including their pretrial justice system.
  • The Plain Dealer and cleveland.com have been collaborating over the last 18 months on a series “Justice for All,” an examination of bail reform in Northeast Ohio.
  • In the face of jail overcrowding, local Colorado judges are driving reforms. Related: Representative Pete Lee says he will introduce a bill to launch a pilot program allowing local courts to text defendants to remind them about court dates, an idea supported by data from an earlier court reminder pilot in Colorado.
  • The ACLU and other organizations plan to target local district attorney races to “elect prosecutors willing to jumpstart a laundry list of criminal justice reforms, including an overhaul of the pretrial bail bond system.”
  • The Pretrial Justice Institute recently launched its NewsClips database, which compiles news stories related to money bail and the bail bond industry.  Stories are categorized by topic—crime out on bond, collateral consequences, system reform, and bondsmen activity.
  • An unlicensed bail bond company in Maryland is successfully using the courts to recover bail bond debt, despite operating illegally.  The practice has some questioning the effectiveness of recent bail reform efforts and contemplating new efforts that delve into specific bail bond practices.
  • Rapper and businessman, Jay-Z, has invested in a bail reform startup company, Promise. Promise is developing a smart application that seeks to lower pretrial incarceration rates and costs, as well as recidivism.

 

Links to external websites and reports are for information purposes only and do not indicate NCSL’s endorsement of the content.

This newsletter was created with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, which seeks to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.