Supreme Court committee studying alternatives to bail

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The state’s new criminal code reconfigured crimes and punishments but while offenders may face different outcomes, some will still languish in jail prior to trial because they do not have the money needed to be released.

Bail is the primary way defendants get out of jail in Indiana. Usually courts order offenders to either pay cash to the court or use a bail agent to post a surety bond to get released from county detention. Those who do not have the money to pay bail stay behind bars.

During the 2013 and 2014 sessions of the Indiana General Assembly, legislation was introduced that would have made small changes but largely left the current bail system in place. The Indiana Supreme Court has since convened a special committee to examine alternative pretrial release programs which would not end bail in Indiana but could significantly reduce its use.

The Committee to Study Evidence-Based Pretrial Release was established by Indiana Chief Justice Brent Dickson in December 2013. The Supreme Court wants a study and evaluation of the risk-assessment tools that are available to determine when pretrial release is appropriate and under what conditions.

Criminal defense attorney Stephen Dillon makes a strong argument for change with the simple assertion that the state’s current bail system is unfair. Rich defendants can get out of jail before their trial while poor defendants have to remain in custody.

Dillon, chair of the Indiana State Bar Association Criminal Justice Section, is a member of the Supreme Court’s pretrial study committee. Echoing the thinking behind evidence-based forms of pretrial release, he advocates basing the decision to discharge not on money but on whether the defendant is a danger to the public or a flight risk.

Among the objectives the Supreme Court gave the study committee was finding a way to give all accused individuals access to release regardless of their personal wealth. In addition, the court asked the committee to report on avenues to establish a release system that is proportional to the risks the defendant presents; will enable offenders to continue their normal lives and employment as much as possible; and will allow accused persons to receive treatment and rehabilitative services.

The 14-member study committee is made up of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers and state legislators.

Release based on risk

Pretrial release has become a key issue with the implementation of the new criminal code. Committee member State Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, pointed out the study committee is addressing the concern that many local officials have about jail overcrowding.

The new code aims to keep low-level, non-violent offenders in the county jails rather than place them in the Indiana Department of Correction. Having some alternatives to bail could provide a better way to reduce the inmate population since a significant proportion of people are currently in the local jails because they cannot afford the cash or surety bond, he said.

Both Dillon and McMillin noted the present bail system does not consider an offender’s risk of committing another crime while on pretrial release. Instead, county jails have a bail schedule based on the level of offense. If the accused has the money, the cell door can swing open.

In Kentucky, the process is different.

Within 24 hours of being arrested, every defendant undergoes a risk assessment that largely consists of a state and national criminal background check as well as a brief interview. Then the defendant is ranked as being of low-, moderate- or high-risk, and the pretrial officers make a recommendation to the local judge.

Next, the judge decides the terms of any pretrial release. While in all cases the bench has the discretion to add conditions, generally low-risk offenders are released on recognizance and moderate-risk offenders are also released but monitored. Judges are given complete discretion regarding high-risk offenders.

Bail is still an option, and judges can impose a monetary condition to release. However, the funds are paid directly to the courts.

“Research has shown time and time again that posting money has no bearing on returning to court or risk to the public,” said Tara Klute, general manager of the Kentucky Division of Pretrial Services.

The success of Kentucky’s program is clearly illustrated in the statistics. In fiscal year 2014, a total of 216,760 individuals were arrested in the Bluegrass State. Of the 68 percent who obtained pretrial release, 87 percent appeared for court hearings and 92 percent did not commit another crime while on release.

Convincing all 92 counties

Northwest Indiana’s Porter County has had a supervised pretrial release program for more than 20 years. Defendants are classified as low-, moderate- or high-risk and assessed for whether they need treatment for a substance abuse or mental health issue.

According to Stephen Meyer, chief probation officer at the Porter County Probation Department, the local jail is one of the few in the state that is under capacity. Also, even though Porter County is the ninth-largest county in Indiana, 40 other counties are sending more inmates to the DOC.

Meyer, who is a member of the study committee, said counties are receptive to looking at what can be done better, yet they can be resistant to change. That gives the committee a “daunting task,” he said, of trying to pull all the players together and consider alternatives to bail.

Klute attributes Kentucky’s ability to get all its counties to comply with pretrial release to the Legislature. The Statehouse passed measures outlawing commercial bail bonds in 1976 and mandated judges use pretrial risk assessment reports in 2011.

Getting all 92 counties in Indiana to agree to institute alternatives to bail will be difficult, McMillin acknowledged. As happened in Kentucky, he believes the Indiana General Assembly will have to legislatively address pretrial release.

The committee has previously met twice and plans to meet again in August. No deadline has been set for the committee to submit its report to the Supreme Court.•


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  1. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.