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Hey California, Take Notes from Kentucky!

| August 23, 2017

In courts across the country, bail is arbitrarily set so high that it has become cost prohibitive for most defendants – especially lower income defendants to post. Bail has essentially become a luxury for the rich.  This is especially true in states like California where, according to a recent Los Angeles Daily Mail article, bail costs “five times the national average.” The article explains that California lawmakers are beginning to look at other states for examples of successful bail systems.  In fact, it proffers that California should look no further than the Bluegrass State as a role model. One California lawmaker, Sen. Bob Hertzberg, reportedly plans to travel to Kentucky “to investigate how Kentucky gets its defendants awaiting trial to show up for court dates and keep them from committing crimes — all without locking them up.”

California can definitely benefit from looking at the Kentucky system.  First, commercial, bail bonding for profit has been prohibited in Kentucky since 1976.  This means that defendants in Kentucky, especially those who are never charged or convicted, do not lose money to non-refundable bail contracts.  Further, legislation was enacted in 2011 that caps the amount of bail for certain offenses, and requires bail to be set based on the defendant’s risk of failing to show up to court as well as the threat they pose to the public.  A low risk defendant may be released on an unsecured bond or no bond at all. Additionally, defendants may earn $100 toward bail for each day spent in jail awaiting trial.

While Kentucky’s bail system is not perfect, I agree that California can certainly learn a lot from them.  With that said, welcome to the Bluegrass State, Sen. Hertzberg.


JULIE WARREN is a graduate of Marshall University and of Regent University School of Law. She also attended Georgetown Law Center as a visiting student. While in law school, she clerked on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Julie served four years at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. After a few years in private practice as a civil defense litigator, Julie returned to public service and began her work in the Office of the West Virginia Attorney General where she primarily served as an appellate advocate for the State of West Virginia and as legislative counsel to the Attorney General.