By Brett B. Thomas, Marion County Public Defender Agency
Opinions in this article are those of the author.
California has become the first state to enact state-wide bail reform, and it seems to be sweeping the nation. Here in Indiana, a pilot program has begun in eleven counties. The program would be replacing the cash bail system with a risk-based system. Under the risk-based system, each individual who is arrested is interviewed using the Indiana Risk Assessment System Pretrial Assessment Tool (IRAS-PAT). At the initial hearing, the judge takes that analysis, that person’s criminal history, the severity of the crime, and other information into account before he or she determines if the person will be released. If released, the judge will determine whether the person is to be put on pretrial monitoring services. The idea behind this move is to prevent lower income people who are charged with less serious crimes from being held in jail because they can’t afford to bail out. Other considerations are to curb jail overcrowding and to hold the people charged with more serious or violent crimes in custody.
The feedback from the Indiana counties has been positive, but the system does come with its flaws. Living in a neighborhood with higher crime, drug abuse and homelessness are three factors that could cause a person to have a worse IRAS-PAT score. Having a worse score will cause a person to be classified as having a higher risk to re-offend. Therefore, there is still a potential disparity among people based on their income level. Lower income communities also face a lack of resources to deal with mental health issues and drug abuse—both major contributors to crime. The opioid crisis has filled our jails with people who have addiction issues. If we could implement services for mental health and drug abuse as a release condition, it could help to curb the problem. Failing to appear is another concern courts have when releasing people. Some people are dealing with dire circumstances due to poverty, and their court case isn’t at the forefront of their minds. Some just don’t want to show up. However, in the pilot programs, a text messaging system to remind people of upcoming court dates and meetings seems to have helped get people to appear.
The major issue with having a system that works for everyone is funding. It will cost millions of dollars to create and implement a comprehensive pretrial release program. This would require case managers, social workers and IT engineers to be hired. Mental health and drug rehabilitation facilities would need to employ new staff to deal with the increase in numbers – requiring funding from the government. Nevertheless, if (and it is a big and expensive "if") a comprehensive pretrial release program can be created, it will be great for our state.
The Indianapolis Star recently had an article that goes into more depth on this topic; you can find it here.
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