Bondsmen oppose effort to move Ohio away from cash bail system

Credit: File art/Stock art

Credit: File art/Stock art

Bail bondsmen came out swinging against legislation that would push Ohio courts away from using the current cash bail system in favor of assessing the risk each defendant poses to public safety or as a flight risk.

“I think this legislation is a big mistake,” said Theodore Owens, a former Columbus police detective who tracks down fugitives for bond companies.

Jeff Clayton of the American Bail Coalition said risk assessment tools don’t work and have been rejected by other states.

The ACLU of Ohio, Buckeye Institute, Justice Action Network and Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor are pushing for sweeping changes to how Ohio courts set bail for defendants, who have yet to have their day in court. Bail has two purposes: make sure the accused show up for court and to protect the public from harm.

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Roughly 57 percent of inmates in Ohio jails are not there serving a sentence but instead are awaiting trial, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction data. Ohio courts should look at risk factors, not bank accounts, when deciding who goes free on bail and who stays locked up, according to advocates for bail reform.

House Bill 439 would let courts impose conditions instead of setting a monetary bail to make sure the accused shows up in court; require courts to use a risk assessment tool before setting bail; and wipe out cash schedules for setting bail. It would also require courts to collect data.

The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association and Ohio Judicial Conference expressed concern that the proposed changes would require more staffing and resources — and urged lawmakers to fully fund any new mandates.

A 34-member study group led by the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission in June 2017 recommended reforms to the state’s pre-trial system, including cutting back on the reliance on money bail and improving data collection. House Bill 439 reflects some of that committee’s recommendations.

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Charles Miller of the Ohio Bail Agents Association said using a risk tool relies on the accused’s criminal history, not the current crime.

“With this legislation we’re creating a catch-me-if-you-can scenario in Ohio and it’s entirely unnecessary,” he warned lawmakers.

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