Most people released under Yakima County’s pretrial release program did not go on to commit new crimes while awaiting trial — similar to the rate of people released on bail before the program was implemented, a recent study of the program revealed.
Across the nation, money bail is being challenged. Alternative programs exist. This article details the success of the Yakima County.
Since February 2016, Yakima County has been allowing low-risk offenders to be released from custody pending trial, with varying degrees of court-mandated supervision based on the nature of the crime and how likely they were to commit another offense or skip court dates if released. Some defendants only received reminder phone calls about court dates, while higher-risk offenders were required to check in with court staff on a weekly basis and undergo drug testing.
A telephone call seems a lot less expensive than holding these inmates in jail.
The pretrial assessments should be a piece of the broader puzzle for improving American pre-trial procedures. As argued by these statisticians:
Bail decisions have traditionally been made by judges relying on intuition and personal preference, in a hasty process that often lasts just a few minutes. In New York City, the strictest judges are more than twice as likely to demand bail as the most lenient ones.
To combat such arbitrariness, judges in some cities now receive algorithmically generated scores that rate a defendant’s risk of skipping trial or committing a violent crime if released. Judges are free to exercise discretion, but algorithms bring a measure of consistency and evenhandedness to the process.
The use of these algorithms often yields immediate and tangible benefits: Jail populations, for example, can decline without adversely affecting public safety.
In one recent experiment, agencies in Virginia were randomly selected to use an algorithm that rated both defendants’ likelihood of skipping trial and their likelihood of being arrested if released. Nearly twice as many defendants were released, and there was no increase in pretrial crime.
New Jersey similarly reformed its bail system this year, adopting algorithmic tools that contributed to a 16 percent drop in its pretrial jail population, again with no increase in crime.
The bail bonds industry has argued that financial collateral is the only effective way to ensure defendants return to court for their trial. Starting in the spring, the Orleans Parish criminal district court decided to test this theory with a pilot program that came close to approximating what it would be like if the court eliminated bail altogether. It used a risk assessment tool to identify who was most likely to return to court without incident—and then it released them without making them pay.
The result? People released in the pilot returned to court at roughly the same rate as defendants in other commissioners’ courtrooms, according to a new report by the civilian court monitoring group Court Watch Nola. The rearrest rate was also comparable, although somewhat higher, at 4.5% rather than 2.9%. In all, 9 people out of 201 people in the program were arrested again after they were released without bail.
The findings help debunk warnings by opponents that replacing money bail will release dangerous criminals into the streets and allow fugitives to flee from justice. . .
“This means that the biggest reason we are paying so much for unnecessary incarceration is to incarcerate defendants who will likely return to court and are not a danger to public safety,” Levine said.
“Low risk” is defined in New Orleans by a risk assessment tool developed by the Vera Institute that analyzes data like prior missed court appearances, criminal history, age, and residency to predict the likelihood that a defendant will be re-arrested or fail to appear in court if released before their trial.
Over the six months of the program, jail stays dropped dramatically for these defendants. In March, before the program began, low-risk defendants were sitting in jail for an average of twelve days–plenty of time to destabilize a life. That quickly dropped to four days. By June, the average jail stay was two days.
Historically, Alabama has merely employed a money bail schedule. This bail schedule needs to be challenged at every opportunity. Rule 7 states as follows:
The following schedule is established as a general rule for circuit, district and municipal courts in setting bail for persons charged with bailable offenses. Except where release is required in the minimum schedule amount pursuant to the Rules of Criminal Procedure, courts should exercise discretion in setting bail above or below the scheduled amounts.
- Capital felony: $50,000 to No Bail Allowed
- Murder: $15,000 to $150,000
- Class A felony: $10,000 to $60,000
- Class B felony: $5,000 to $30,000
- Class C felony: $ 2,500 to $ 15,000
- Drug manufacturing and trafficking: $5,000 to $1,500,000
- Class D felony: $1,000 to $10,000
Misdemeanors (not included elsewhere in the schedule):
- Class A misdemeanor: $300 to $ 6,000
- Class B misdemeanor: $300 to $3,000
- Class C misdemeanor: $300 to $1,000
- Violation: $ 300 to $ 500Municipal Ordinance Violations: $300 to $1,000Traffic- Related Offenses: DUI: $1,000 to $7,500