Bail Agents Rep Responds To Criticism Of Cash Bail System

A gray and white bail bonds sign.
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The head of the Ohio Bail Agents Association, Charles Miller, is responding to a report calling the state's cash bail system "unfair" to poor defendants.

The report, released yesterday by the conservative Buckeye Institute, said requiring defendants to put up cash in order to gain pretrial release discriminates against the poor while letting those with money get out. But Charles Miller, president of the association, disagrees. He said Ohio law gives judges the freedom to set a low bail for indigent defendants, or even no bail at all.

Miller said he agrees in principle that a person's wealth shouldn't determine whether they get pretrial release.

"[If] the judge or the system says, 'Hey, this person is truly indigent and can't afford bail and is nonviolent,' then so be it," he said Tuesday, a day after the Buckeye Institute released a report calling for a wide scale reduction on the use of cash bail. 

However, he disagreed with the report's assertion that cash bail is unfair and that courts should stop using it. Cash bail, he said, is a cost-effective way for courts to ensure defendants show up for trial. Moreover, Miller said, the alternatives recommended in the Buckeye reportwhich include individual screening, data collection, counseling and monitoringwould cost courts tens-of-thousands of dollars to administer.

"If we're going to try to do this in 88 counties, how are we going to afford this?" he said.

Reformers, however, say those alternatives would actually save courts money in the long run, because they'd spend less on jailing people accused of low-level crimes.

In Ohio, various jurisdictions are already reforming their bail and pretrial procedures. Late last year, Cleveland Municipal Court announced it planned to use an algorithm, called the "Public Safety Assessment," to determine whether a given defendant would be a risk to the public if released pending trial. And some municipal courts in Cuyahoga County are considering piloting new pretrial bail procedures.*

Such reforms, wrote the authors of a March 2017 report by the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission, "will, over time, result in cost savings to the justice system and result in a pretrial justice system that maintains due process and equal protection while ensuring public safety and court appearances."

*An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas planned to test new bail reform procedures. Bail reforms are being considered by some municipal courts in the county, but not the Court of Common Pleas.

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