John Koufos on why Republicans should support bail reform
September 17, 2023
John Koufos (Leading with Conviction™ 2017) writes in The Washington Times:
“In Georgia and many other states, the risk of reoffending or fleeing is not the main factor in whether a person is released from jail before trial.
“Instead, a person’s freedom is largely dictated by access to funds. [Donald] Trump’s financial resources likely allowed him to post any amount of bail, regardless of risk.
“Not everyone is so fortunate. For many other low-risk but less well-resourced defendants, posting cash bail is difficult or impossible. While Mr. Trump walks free awaiting trial, thousands of Georgians accused of minor offenses remain locked up simply because they cannot afford to purchase their freedom. Worse still, taxpayers underwrite this unnecessary incarceration, straining already tight state budgets.
Wide-ranging support [for bail reform] from both policymakers and the public is rooted in evidence.
“There is an alternative. Some states and localities have implemented a risk-based bail system, sometimes known as bail reform. These reforms use data to measure a defendant’s risk of skipping their trial date or reoffending and then determine whether release, incarceration or, in some jurisdictions, cash bail is appropriate.
“Reforms like these have won over both Democratic and Republican constituencies — including in venues with a history of tough-on-crime policing and prosecution. In Harris County, Texas, for instance, conservative advocates and law enforcement leaders supported bail reforms that reduced incarceration rates while maintaining public safety.
“Unfortunately, Republicans are far from unified on this issue. Some Republicans, such as presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have explicitly supported the continued use of money bail. By contrast, presidential candidate and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie implemented risk-based bail in his state, which protected public safety and advanced liberty.
“Since 2017, New Jersey has used a risk-based bail system. When someone is arrested, court staff conduct a public safety assessment that considers the type of offense, prior convictions (including violent convictions), the person’s history of missing court dates. Judges make the final call and are empowered to tailor their decisions to release, detain, or impose conditions on a specific defendant. …
“As a former federal prosecutor, Mr. Christie can hardly be described as soft on crime. What’s more, he was joined on this issue by New Jersey’s chief justice — a former state attorney general and federal prosecutor — as well as 62% of New Jersey voters, who approved a constitutional amendment that led to the new bail system.
“That wide-ranging support from both policymakers and the public is rooted in evidence. Research has proved that cash bail does not deter crime nor increase court appearance rates; bail reform, however, can achieve both.”