This article by Right on Crime signatory and executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Timothy Head, originally appeared in The Columbus Dispatch April 20th, 2018.
The Faith and Freedom Coalition prides itself as a national grassroots movement that supports time-honored values, stronger families and individual freedom. We’re an organization that seeks to apply our Christian principles and free-market ideology to state level policy. As Christians, our faith commands us to care for all individuals, including those who are mired inside the criminal justice system. As Jesus said in Matthew Chapter 25, Verses 36-40: “I was in prison and you came to visit me … I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
We believe that our justice system should adhere to these words, while also ensuring public safety. And by focusing on smart, data-driven changes to our system, we can keep families together, lower crime and recidivism rates and create strong communities. This year, Ohio has the opportunity to enact pretrial reforms that meet these goals. If passed, House Bill 439 would ensure that judges have more information to determine which criminal defendants pose threats to their communities and should therefore be detained before their trials. This same information can also help judges identify those defendants who do not pose a risk to public safety or of failing to show up for their court dates and therefore can be safely returned to their families ahead of their trials.
Roughly 57 percent of individuals housed in Ohio jails have not been convicted of a crime and are awaiting trial. Many of these individuals are not held there because they pose any danger to their communities but merely because they cannot afford to post bail.
For these individuals, even a few days in jail can be totally destabilizing. They often lose crucial connections to their children, families, communities and jobs. Neither public safety nor taxpayers benefit from the current system: The average cost to house defendants in Ohio jails is $64.45 per day, or over $23,500 per year. And if pretrial detention causes these individuals to lose their jobs and the ability to care for their families, the cost to Ohio taxpayers will be exponentially higher.
We believe that Ohio courts should be equipped with tools that allow them to make release decisions by looking at each individual case, not someone’s bank account. Without this information, judges are often flying blind and left without crucial information. These are choices that ultimately impact public safety and the effective use of precious resources.
House Bill 439 would further allow courts to impose certain pretrial release conditions to make sure the accused shows up in court; require courts to use a comprehensive risk assessment tool before setting bail, and wipe out unchangeable uniform cash bail schedules, which require judges to impose preset bail amounts for each crime type and don’t factor in individual circumstances or a person’s ability to pay. In short, this bill provides judges with as much information as possible and empowers them to use their discretion to make pretrial decisions that best serve our communities.
H.B. 439 also makes clear that judges can use information beyond the risk assessment, which further strengthens judicial discretion and expands their ability to impose more effective alternatives to cash bail including house arrest, unsecured bonds and GPS monitoring. And perhaps most importantly, the bill will help judges identify those individuals who pose risks to the public, which empowers the judges to use their discretion to detain these individuals pretrial.
We believe that judges should be equipped with all tools necessary to ensure public safety, and we also believe that pretrial incarceration should only be used for those who pose a genuine risk to society. Ohio’s neighboring state, Kentucky, has already given judges tools to make informed pretrial decisions, and as a result, the state has seen its pretrial jail populations decrease and its crime rate drop simultaneously. This translates to significant taxpayer savings and safer communities.
For all these reasons, the Faith and Freedom Coalition commends state Rep. Jonathan Dever, R-Madeira, for sponsoring H.B. 439, and we stand with the legislature as it moves this bill forward for the good of Ohio families, communities and taxpayers.