Rich buy freedom, poor stay in jail, report on Ohio bail system says

For the most part, criminal defendants with money can purchase their freedom from county jail while poorer defendants stay locked up pending trial, according to a new 256-page report that is recommending a major overhaul to Ohio’s money bail system.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction found that 35.4 percent of local jail inmates are there awaiting trial. They’re either being held without bail, or — in most cases — they can’t afford bail, according to a special committee report from the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission.

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Bail aims to do two things: make sure a defendant shows up for court and protect the public from harm.

Defendants deemed to be too risky can be held in jail without bail. Those considered little or no risk may be released without conditions. Those in between may be required to make bail — money paid up front.

But in recent years the pretrial services and bail system have been under the microscope across the country. In Ohio, Cuyahoga, Lucas, Stark and Summit counties and Cleveland Municipal Court have started looking at different ways to protect the public, make sure defendants show up for court and cut incarceration costs.

The Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission formed a special committee to take a statewide look. The committee, which met five times over 11 months, is recommending Ohio:

* Use a risk assessment tool, rather than monetary guidelines, to determine who should be released pending trial;

* Collect and analyze data on appearance rates, public safety and violations to ensure a fair, effective system;

* Use other ways to prompt a defendant to show up for court, such as day reporting, instead of jail;

* Mandate that legal counsel appear with defendants at the initial appearance.

The changes could bring big savings for taxpayers. The committee reports that Kentucky spends $11.8 million on its statewide pretrail services system to supervise defendants released pending trial, at a cost of $11.74 per defendant compared with $613.80 per incarcerated defendant.

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Likewise, Summit County launched a program in 2006 that uses Oriana House, a private non-profit, to conduct pretrail investigations on new felony bookings, assess the risk the defendants pose, and supervise them pending trial. The supervision costs between $1.32 and $5.02 per day compared with daily jail costs of $133.25 per person, the committee reported.

The committee is scheduled to detail its recommendations on Thursday in Columbus, take public comment through May 15 and issue a final report June 15.

In a written statement, Fairborn Municipal Court Judge Beth Cappelli, a committee member, said: “The recommendations target changing the bond and bail from a one-size fits all fixed amount bond schedule to a method of release at the pretrial stage utilizing evidence based practices and tailoring any pretrial release conditions to the individual. The hoped for result will be that individuals will no longer be incarcerated simply because they did not have the financial resources to post bond.”


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