Conservative Buckeye Institute Joins Calls For Bail Reform, Says Cash Bail Is "Unfair"

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The Buckeye Institute, a free-market think tank based in Columbus, is joining a growing chorus calling for bail reform

"Cash bail is an inefficient, expensive, unfair means of protecting communities that has proven no guarantee to stopping repeat offenders," wrote  Daniel Dew, a legal fellow at the Institute, in a report released Monday titled “Money Bail: Making Ohio a More Dangerous Place to Live."

Dew said he knows that conservatives have a reputation when it comes to criminal justice issues.

"Traditionally, conservatives have been viewed as 'lock'em up, throw away the key type people,'" but bail reform is in line with conservative values, he said. "We want limited government, and we want to make sure that people are getting a good retrun on their invesetment for their tax dollars." 

He says governments spend too much money jailing defendants accused of low-level crimes, simply because those defendants can't afford to post bail. 

"You can have low-level people who are held in for things like drunken jaywalking or trespassing because they don't have 500 dollars or a thousand dollars."

"Instead of the rather arbitrary approach of cash bail, with its inherent prejudice against poorer defendants," he said, "courts should take a more individualized view of each case to deny bail for the truly dangerous, and customize release conditions for those freed while awaiting trial."

He says a better system would be like the one used by the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas in Toledo. In 2015, the court imlmented a "Public Safety Assessment" algorithm, designed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, to determine whether a given defendant would be a risk to the public if released pending trial. A later study found that even as the number pretrial releases went up, the rate of crimes committed by those defendants went down.

Locally, Cleveland Municipal Court announced last year it planned to use the same algorithm. And some municipal courts in Cuyahoga County are considering piloting new pretrial bail procedures.*

The Buckeye Institute report comes a few days after two Statehouse Republicans introduced a bill that would give judges more leeway to set non-cash bail.

*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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