Report: Bail reforms could save Ohio taxpayers $67 million a year

A new report from the Buckeye Institute says Ohio could save $67 million a year in jail costs by changing the bail system used by courts.

“Ohio’s cash bail system is broken and the reforms pending in the General Assembly could save hard-earned taxpayer dollars while keeping our communities safe,” said Buckeye Institute legal fellow Daniel Dew in a written statement.

Reforms are justified on the basis of justice, public safety and fiscal responsibility, he said.

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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.

Ohio courts generally rely on a monetary schedule to determine how much the accused must pay in bail to be released from jail while awaiting a day in court. Advocates for reform, however, say that too often people with financial resources go free while the poor remain locked up and taxpayers foot the bill.

Jailing someone costs nearly $65 a day, compared with $5 per day for supervised release, according to the Buckeye Institute.

House Bill 439 calls for replacing money-bail schedules with risk assessment tools that gauge the likelihood that the accused is a risk to the public or a flight risk. It would also require courts to collect data.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction reports that in 2016, there were 19,209 inmates in jail — 11,123 of whom were awaiting trial. Housing inmates before trial across Ohio costs $266-million a year, according to DRC.

Bail agents oppose the proposed reforms, saying such changes have failed in other states.

Related: Bondsmen push back against effort to move Ohio away from cash bail system

The Buckeye Institute study looked at $7.3-million in savings achieved by Summit County, which uses a risk assessment tool.

Dew argues that the $67-million in potential statewide savings should more than cover the cost of implementing changes to the bail system.

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