Ohio looking to change bail system, focusing less on money

The ACLU of Ohio says a plan to shift courts away from using cash-bail systems is a good start but doesn’t go far enough to fix the broken system.

ACLU lobbyist Gary Daniels and Policy Counsel Caitlin Hill are encouraging state lawmakers to change House Bill 439, which aims to reduce the use of cash bail and instead assess the risk of each defendant poses based on factors such as criminal history and age. The bill would require courts to use a “risk assessment” tool when setting bail in misdemeanor cases but not in felony cases.

“Freedom should not depend on how much money someone has in their bank account,” Daniels said in a written statement.

The ACLU says cash bail should be eliminated for misdemeanor and some felony charges and courts should be required to compile race-based data for full analysis.

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

“HB439 aligns Ohio with the national trend in bail and pretrial service reform that recognizes keeping someone in jail simply because they cannot afford to pay the set amount of money bail does not increase public safety,” according to written testimony from Sara Andrews, director of the Criminal Sentencing Commission.

Bail reform is also supported by the Buckeye Institute, a conservative think tank based in Columbus. Buckeye Institute fellow said in his testimony that HB439 would make the system fairer and communities safer.

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