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Katie Greer | September 5, 2017
Any and every murder committed by a released defendant should be seen as a system failure in need of correcting, but we should not use it as a reason to scrap bail reform altogether. Let’s not forget, the former system was also imperfect. People have languished in jail before trial due to inability to afford bail. People have also been released, despite violent convictions, solely because they were able to pay bail.
The big picture is that cash based bail systems have failed to ensure public safety or equal access to justice by jailing defendants who simply couldn’t afford to pay bail. By adding another layer to the justice system, like public safety assessments, it would help ensure that public safety – not money – is the main priority. Just look at the decrease in crime seen in New Jersey post-bail reform. Proponents of reform point to public safety assessments as a contributor in crime reductions. With that said, the imperfections that do exist cannot go unaddressed. Leaders in the justice system must finely tune public safety assessments to better reduce the chance of new crimes being committed – even if that means revising how threats to public safety are measured.
It’s crucial to note that conservative proponents of public safety assessments are not interested in banning cash bail altogether. We merely want to return cash bail to its original purpose – to protect the public from people who are deemed dangerous and to ensure that those who prove unlikely to show up for trial are appropriately detained. That is why both models are needed. At Right on Crime, we value judicial discretion and the justice it delivers to communities at large. We only ask that judges weigh a person’s threat to society more heavily than their financial means.
Locking someone away simply because they can’t afford bail has proven counterproductive. While punishing someone before they’ve seen a fair trial is constitutionally questionable as is, spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars in response to a person’s bail debt is equally questionable. We should be more conscious of the financial consequences of pre-trial jail. Additionally, we should be cognizant that it’s not just one life but many who are affected by a single person’s incarceration: there is a child whose parent who is no longer there to pay rent. There is a business owner whose worker did not show up. There is a community who is now paying to keep that person locked away…
That is why conservatives support public safety risk assessments.