Bail reform


MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Thursday, the 17th of May, 2018. Thanks for joining us today.

Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up on The World and Everything in It: Reforming the bail system.

Property crime is on a long downward trend in the United States. It’s been declining an average of 2 percent a year for the last 10 years.

And the FBI says: arrests over that period have fallen from a little over 14 million in 2007 to about 10.7 million in 2016. So that’s a drop of 25 percent.

The numbers come from the Bureau’s annual Crime in the United States report.

REICHARD: Still, advocates for the poor say the bail system is in need of attention and, specifically, reform.

WORLD Magazine reports: “Nationally there’s a movement in state legislatures and local governments to reform or even eliminate bail.

“Reformers argue that the system is outdated and that it’s an unconstitutional burden on those who cannot pay.

“Stuck in prison, many will plead guilty to lesser charges rather than wait months for a trial.”

EICHER: WORLD’s Emily Belz has been reporting on this and she joins me now.

Emily, let’s make sure we understand the meaning and purpose of bail. It’s basically a way for you go to free and go about your life while awaiting trial. What else would do we need to know about it?

EMILY BELZ, REPORTER: Well, an easy way to think about bail is as a deposit. So, you’re just putting money down to ensure that you will make all your court appearances. It can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

So, ya know, I’m here in New York and bail is very low here in New York. In California, bail tends to be very high. So it’s judge to judge, jurisdiction to jurisdiction, a very specific local issue. But we want to look at the national trends on it.

As I mentioned a moment ago, there’s this long downward trend in essentially nonviolent crime and a long downward trend in arrests, so fewer people in the system. Why is bail reform an issue now?

BELZ: I think it has something to do with the general attention on criminal justice reform. There are a number of states that have recently passed measures and states that are working on that right now even as we speak. New Jersey got rid of bail entirely and they’ve created a new system where they decide — they assign points to someone if you’re a risk to the community, you stay in jail. If not, then they let you go. So it’s a risk to the community or it’s a risk to flight from court appearances.

So that’s how they’ve decided to do it and they’re just in their first year. So that’s going to be an interesting experiment to see whether crime goes up as a result of their getting rid of bail.

So that’s the most extreme example, but other states are doing more subtle changes. I mean, in some cases you can just have cash bail. There are more complicated things like judges allowing you to have assurity, which means you would have someone who would vouch for you and pay your bail if you didn’t make your court appearances, but you wouldn’t have to put the deposit down yourself. So there are a lot of little things that could change that would perhaps make it a more equitable system.

I mean, the concern of groups like Prison Fellowship is that the way the bail system works now is not in compliance with the 8th Amendment, which prohibits excessive bail. So they’re thinking mostly people who are low income tend to stay in jail away from their jobs, away from their families perhaps for months or years at a time, which is a couple cases that I found in New York.

So it’s trying to prevent that from happening and trying to keep within the constitutional bounds of the 8th amendment.

Well, speaking of the constitutional bounds, we have a principle in our society, presumed innocent unless proven guilty, not always well-respected, but it’s at least something fair-minded people aspire to, and certainly we expect of our criminal-justice system. Yet I noticed a line in your story from a critic who said “the process is the punishment.” That ought not be. You did a ride-along with someone posting bail on behalf of another. Describe what that was like.

BELZ: Yeah, it’s almost hilarious to see how difficult it is to post bail in New York. For a family member, let’s say someone in this case it was somebody who needed $1,000 bail posted to get out of jail. You have to travel to one of the city’s five jails, which are very far flung. In this case, we went to the Bronx jail which is — we went from the Bronx criminal court out, it was about a 45 minute bus ride.

And so we walked from the end of the bus line to this little bail office and there wasn’t even anyone there to help us. So we spent several hours sitting in that bail office waiting and waiting and waiting. And this is what family members have to go through just to post bail. And they have to have very specific paperwork. This guy I went with has done it multiple times. He works for a charity bail organization. So he knew what to do, but I saw other people come in who had — one guy was posting a $1 bail and the officer wouldn’t let him post because it was going to take 6 hours to do the paperwork. So it’s this bureaucratic nightmare for a lot of family members even if they have the money.

We did finally post bail and then I wrote about it and one day after we published the story, the mayor of New York announced that they would be creating an online bail payment system. So I think we can give WORLD Magazine credit for making that happen. Not really, but it was really fun to see that there was a quick change from that nightmare in just a matter of hours.

Well, I checked and Mr. DeBlasio is actually not on the subscription record. But nevertheless, maybe somebody passed it on to him. [BELZ: Haha! I hope so!]

Emily Belz is a WORLD reporter based in New York City. Emily, thank you.

BELZ: Thank you, Nick.


(Photo/Daniel Schwen) A bail bond agency in Indianapolis, Ind. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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