Nothing sets off a contentious discussion like bail reform. Police executives throughout the country claim that release after arrest equals more crime and violence, Wall Street Journal.
Progressive or liberal publications scoff at the notion that bail reform is having any impact on crime.
Yet it seems like a daily event to get an article or media report addressing the high percentage of released arrestees committing additional crimes or a horrific story of someone released before trial committing a violent crime.
Note: Not all examples below pertain to bail reform. Some address those released before trial regardless of status. Some deal with advocates posting bail for low-income people.
Endless Stories: There are endless examples of horror stories of people released before trial committing serious violent crimes, Chicago Sun Times.
Yolo County: The Yolo County (California) District Attorney’s Office says they have been tracking people who were let out on zero-dollar bail and observed that almost half have been arrested again, reports FOX40. Since April 13, 2020, individuals released on $0 bail have committed over 908 new crimes in the county and 41.6 percent have been rearrested, according to the DA.
San Francisco: Roughly half of people charged with crimes and released from jail before their trials in San Francisco in recent years failed to show up for court, and a similar share were accused of committing a new crime while free, a new study found.
More than 1 in 6 defendants allegedly committed a new violent offense, according to the findings from May 2016 to December 2019 published by the California Policy Lab, based at UC Berkeley and UCLA, San Francisco Chronicle.
Harris County: At a committee hearing for Texas Senate Bill 21 last month, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg presented data showing that the number of defendants charged with new crimes while out on bond has gone up every year for the past five years. The number of those accused of a crime while out on two to four bonds quadrupled from 2016 to 2020, from 1,812 to 7,312, Houston Public Media.
Cook County: The study concluded that after bail reforms were implemented in Cook County, the number of released defendants charged with new crimes increased by about 45%, and those charged with new violent crimes went up by about 33%, NBC Chicago.
New Study: One study by researchers at Princeton, Harvard, and Stanford Universities, found that pretrial release increases the likelihood of rearrest prior to case disposition by more than 37 percent—and increased the likelihood of a defendant failing to appear in court by 124 percent, Princeton.EDU.
Chicago: The Tribune reporters—among them, a Pulitzer Prize winner and multiple-time Pulitzer finalist, David Jackson—documented 162 individuals charged with felonies who have been bailed out by the advocacy groups since February 2017. More than one in five were subsequently charged with new offenses, City Journal.
New York: The steady stream of troubling releases has been accompanied by a sharp uptick in New York City crime—an uptick that Police Commissioner Dermot Shea publicly linked to the state’s bail reform law.
Through February 16, 2020, New York City has seen increases in a variety of offenses: Robbery (32.3%), Felony (6.8%) and Misdemeanor (2.8%) Assault, Burglary (21.1%), Grand Larceny (13%), Grand Larceny Auto (64.3%), Shooting Incidents (21.3%), as well as both Transit (36.2%) and Housing (3.6%) crime, Manhattan Institute.
New York: The NYPD also said at least 247 of those arrested for gun crimes and released were either re-arrested for a different crime within 60 days of the initial arrest, or are being sought for re-arrest, Gothamist.
Albany: Violent crime is up, and David Soares is pointing his finger at bail reform. In a piece newly published by the New York Post, the Albany County District Attorney says “the chickens have come home to roost.” His claim, essentially, is that more shootings are happening because defendants are committing crimes after they’re released without bail, timesunion.com: https://
Chicago: Top cop renews call for courts to keep those accused of violence behind bars longer. “Any one of you could be having lunch on a patio sitting next to an offender on (electronic monitoring) who others are targeting to kill and you could get shot and killed trying to enjoy your day,” CPD Supt. Brown said Tuesday, Chicago Sun-Times: https://apple.news/
D.C. Transit Crimes: Police said suspects often are back on a train or bus — or at a rail station or bus stop — soon after an arrest, Metro Transit Police propose ban on passengers arrested for a sex or firearms offense.
Basics Of Bail And Reform
Defendants are legally presumed innocent until a conviction regardless of criminal history. Incarcerating “innocent” people before trial because they can’t come up with the money required for bail seems wrong to many. It’s a matter of access to resources and it seems discriminatory against lower-income people.
The ability to keep people in jail before trial depends on the jurisdiction. To some, it’s the likelihood of showing up for trial. To others, it’s based on the dangerousness of the defendant. It could be a combination of the two factors.
Most jurisdictions release defendants with little to no supervision beyond a list of what they can and cannot do (i.e., no contact with the victim). A few are placed on GPS monitoring. Many are released simply on their promise to appear for their trial
Some have extraordinary resources for the supervision of defendants (i.e., Washington, D.C.).
The Pretrial Services Agency in Washington, D.C. is a federal entity spending approximately 67 million dollars a year to supervise 34,000 defendants. Release before trial is presumed.
Per their annual report, 87 percent of defendants remain arrest-free till trial, 99 percent of violent offenders remain arrest-free till trial and 88 percent show up for trial.
Pretrial supervision in D.C. has considerable resources that range from supervision to drug testing to GPS monitoring to an array of social services. They are considered the best pretrial agency in the country. See their annual report at DC Pretrial Services. Disclosure, I occasionally handled media inquiries for the agency.
But beyond D.C., the vast majority of pretrial service agencies have very limited budgets. I’m guessing that the overwhelming majority of defendants are unsupervised until trial.
The Bail Project
The Bail Project, a national effort to bail poor and low-income people out of jail, on Tuesday launched “Bail Out the South,” the next phase of its plans to secure freedom for thousands of people over the next few years, reports the Associated Press.
The National Bail Project, which helps low-income defendants get out of jail by bailing them out as their criminal cases progress through the courts, was founded three years ago, following a successful 10-year campaign in New York City. Data collected over that 10-year period shows that 95 percent of people helped by the project returned to court for every appearance.
It also showed that, when people could get out of jail, the majority were ultimately not convicted of a crime. Since its launch in 2018, the Bail Project said it has paid $41 million to bail out more than 15,500 people in over 24 cities.
The Nature Of Most Arrests
It’s impossible to discuss pretrial release without acknowledging the nature of arrests. The Bail Project (above) states that 95 percent return for trial and most were not convicted. Based on everything in this article, it’s hard to believe either statistic.
The overwhelming percentage of crime is not reported to law enforcement per the Bureau of Justice Statistics. For example, only 41 percent of violent crimes are reported. It’s dramatically less for property crimes.
The vast majority of reported crimes do not end in an arrest. It’s not unusual for some cities to have the great bulk of homicides escape arrest. For lesser crimes, it’s even more distressing.
Contrary to advocates, getting arrested in America is a fairly unusual event considering the totality of crime. Yes, there are some who are frequent flyers who are the subject of endless community complaints.
For those arrested, it’s often (not always) an open and shut case of having a victim who knows the defendant and is willing to testify or a police officer responding to a complaint and catching the defendant in the act. The majority of violent crime victims know their offenders.
The simple fact that apprehended people are often guilty of the charge is reflected in plea bargains and guilty pleas representing the overwhelming percentage of case processing.
Prosecutors are always looking for ways to manage a caseload by getting rid of “iffy” cases. Deciding not to prosecute occurs in 30-50 percent of cases depending on federal or state prosecutions, Percentage Not Prosecuted. This includes deferred prosecutions (i.e., not prosecuting or dropping charges if the defendant does some community service for a minor crime or a first arrest).
The reality of prosecuted arrests is the fact that the person charged is probably guilty based on cooperating witnesses-victims and is usually backed by physical evidence (i.e., photos of a battered woman).
While this statement causes progressives’ heads to spin out of control, it’s usually true for the 94 percent who end up pleading guilty per US Department of Justice research.
Advocates will insist that it’s overzealous prosecutors taking advantage of unknowledgeable defendants with overworked public defenders, but when a wife complains that her husband beat her for the sixth time, and he has a criminal record, getting a plea of two months suspended for a greatly reduced crime (i.e., aggravated assault becomes a misdemeanor assault) seems to indicate that the result is clearly in the defendant’s best interest.
Yes, there are major differences in prosecution and pretrial detention between urban and rural areas. Because the numbers processed in rural areas are far fewer than in cities, prosecution and pretrial detention are more onerous or just depending on your opinion.
Someone is not telling the truth. Either advocates for bail reform are lying or police executives find that release before trial is a convenient excuse for rising crime.
COVID releases from jail and prisons are high corresponding with increases in violence but correlation does not equal causation, Reuters.
In some of the examples provided, high percentages and numbers of released defendants are committing a ton of additional crimes or are not showing up for their court dates. Critics will state that some of my examples do not address bail reform but regardless, for some jurisdictions, there are a lot of crimes committed by released defendants.
We’re not talking about years before trial. We are talking about months. That’s a lot of new crimes in a fairly short time span.
People coming into contact with the justice system being rearrested or reincarcerated isn’t unusual.
The most common understanding of prison recidivism is based on state data from the US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, stating that two-thirds (68 percent) of prisoners released were arrested for a new crime within three years of release from prison, and three-quarters (77 percent) were arrested within five years.
Within 3 years of release, 49.7% of inmates either had an arrest that resulted in a conviction with a disposition of a prison sentence or were returned to prison without a new conviction because they violated a technical condition of their release, as did 55.1% of inmates within 5 years of release, Recidivism.
But we’re not addressing prison inmates when we discuss bail reform. Most felony defendants will not go to prison per Department of Justice data.
Writing articles on crime allows me to examine an issue and come to a conclusion. But my training as a senior specialist for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse and my time as the director of information services for the National Crime Prevention Council compels me to pay attention to the research
There is data firmly stating that there is no relationship between bail reform and crime, see CNN.
Maybe it’s the degree or complexity of pretrial supervision via data from the Pretrial Services Agency in D.C.
Either the complexities of bail and arrest are intricate and hard to measure (i.e., the effects of COVID) or people are simply lying.
Bail reform could be another example of messages we send to criminal offenders saying that law enforcement is no longer vigorous in the pursuit of suspects and the consequences for crime are not as onerous as before, Messages To Offenders.
This is another example of a need for research to establish the impact of justice reform.
My book based on thirty-five years of criminal justice public relations,” Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization” available at Amazon
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Author: Allison Pagliughi
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