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Bail reforms encourage risk assessments in pretrial release decisions

September 7, 2016

As part of an effort to reform the state’s bail system and reduce recidivism rates, the Indiana Supreme Court has adopted a new criminal rule to encourage the prompt release of arrestees who do not pose a significant threat to public safety.

Through Criminal Rule 26, which can be read here, the Supreme Court is encouraging trial courts to use evidence-based risk assessment tools to determine whether an arrestee should be granted a pretrial release. The rule is effective immediately for courts in Allen, Bartholomew, Hamilton, Hendricks, Jefferson, Monroe, St. Joseph, Starke and Tipton counties. It will be expanded to all courts on Jan. 1, 2018.

In the order released Wednesday, the Supreme Court wrote that unless an arrestee has been charged with murder or treason, is on probation, parole or other community supervision or is already on pretrial release for an unrelated incident, the courts should allow for a pretrial release without money bail or surety as long as the arrestee does not pose a safety or flight risk.

Lower courts should look at the results of an evidence-based risk assessment approved through the Indiana Office of Court Services when determining if an arrestee meets the qualifications for a pretrial release without bail or surety, the Supreme Court wrote in its order. However, the Supreme Court also wrote that lower courts are not required to conduct a risk assessment if doing so would delay the arrestee’s pretrial release.

The primary purpose of monetary bail or other release conditions is to ensure that an arrestee will appear in court while also reducing any risk to public safety.  However, the court also said that the prompt release of arrestees who do not pose a public safety risk is associated with lower rates of recidivism, as well as reduced costs to jails.

Thus, Criminal Rule 26, which is based on the recommendation of defense counsel, probation officers, lawmakers and trial court judges, is meant to help lower the number of repeat offenders while also cutting local jail costs.

“The reforms are designed to provide for public safety and protect the presumption of innocence,” Chief Justice Loretta Rush said in a statement.

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