Don’t let fear-mongering about bail reform make things worse!

People are being scared about the new bail reform statute. What they are not being told is that the new statute doesn’t leave the public less safe and isn’t responsible for much of the crime it’s getting blamed for.

Bail means that people can get out of jail so long as they can buy a bond. All bail statutes involve some risk of what defendants may do while out on bail. The worst criminals, the ones who have garnered the most ill-gotten gains, have the least problem getting out. But the public is not being told when the defendant would have been out anyway.

Under previous statutes, judges imposed bail based on the likelihood that defendants would run away. But the bail reform statute defines situations where there is reason for concern about public safety and provides for electronic monitoring and other restrictions in those instances, restrictions that keep people from causing trouble.

So the new statute is not likely to let people loose who would have been confined under the old statute and who shouldn’t have been under the new one.

What the old statute did was to make it impossible for poorer people to hire an attorney – in jail they couldn’t earn anything to pay for lawyers, or feed their families.

DA’s liked the old statute – they could force people to plead guilty just so they could get out and try to earn a living. That’s been a scandal well known among lawyers.

And as for discovery, most lawyers in cases in all other fields have to tell the other side what they’ve got in the way of evidence. And if there’s any reason for a defendant to be scared, there are ways judges can deal with it.

Don’t be scared by misinformation.

And don’t forget the benefits. Actually we are safer when we don’t unnecessarily destroy lives, make people less able to support themselves and their families – that drives people to desperation, and it leaves their kids feeling hopeless which drives lots of counter-productive behavior. Hopelessness causes kids to drop out of school or go on drugs or both, with horrific consequences for all of us. Don’t let fear-mongering make things worse when we are on the verge on ending the scourge of mass incarceration and all the costs and damage that has been causing.

For more information, a couple of excellent articles are by Emily Bazelon and Insha Rahman, There’s a Strong Case for Sticking With Bail Reform; and by the author, John Grisham, Bail laws a lesson in New York’s strong leadership. The statute is lengthy and the currently available version includes many provisions in unrelated areas of law; it begins at page 109.

 

 

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