BY: Citizens Count
Legislators will consider several bills in 2018 to reform the bail process.
There is a concern that low income, low risk defendants are forced to stay in jail before trial simply because they cannot afford bail.
Rep. Brian Stone is the primary sponsor of HB 1395, a bill that would require a court to consider the financial resources of a person when setting cash bail. HB 1395 would forbid the court from setting bail in an amount a low income person cannot pay. Under this bill, a court could only require a person to stay in jail before trial if the court finds that the person will likely not appear in court or will endanger the community.
Sen. Dan Feltes is sponsoring a similar bill in the Senate, although the text of that bill is not yet public.
In a more cautious approach, Rep. Peter Schmidt is sponsoring HB 1245, which would establish a committee to study alternatives to bail for very low income individuals.
Jail just for being poor?
Supporters of bail reform point out that imprisoning poor defendants is costly for the state.
Reform supporters also note that jail time can result in lost jobs and housing, which makes it even more difficult for an individual to be a productive member of society.
Others argue that the current system unjustly subjects poor people to imprisonment without the right of a trial.
Releasing dangerous offenders?
Some members of law enforcement believe that bail should only consider a defendant’s alleged crime. If courts are required to consider income, they may be more likely to release somewhat risky offenders.
Other opponents of bail reform note that very low income defendants, including homeless individuals, may be more likely to miss a court date, so pre-trial jail time is reasonable.
Do you support bail reform that would consider a defendant’s ability to pay? Let us know in the comments below.