New Buckeye Report Finds Ohio’s “Money Bail” System is Dangerous to Communities

Dec 11, 2017

Columbus, OH – Today, The Buckeye Institute released its latest policy report, “Money Bail”: Making Ohio a More Dangerous Place to Live, which looks at the need for Ohio to replace its failing cash bail system with proven risk-assessment tools that provide a fairer, more efficient way to keep Ohio’s communities safe and secure.

“The traditional money bail scheme is in dire need of reform, it is an inefficient, expensive, unfair means of protecting communities that has proven no guarantee to stopping repeat offenders,” said Daniel J. Dew, a legal fellow with The Buckeye Institute’s Legal Center and author of the report. “Under our current system, accused murderers, child rapists, and armed robbers are arrested and released into our communities because they have access to money, while citizens accused of jaywalking, violating dress-codes, or failing to pay traffic tickets sit in jail for days, weeks, or even months because they have little or no access to cash. We can and must do better.”

Recommendations and Alternative Tools

In Money Bail, Dew recommends the use of evidence-based, risk-assessment tools to assess the risk an individual poses, such as their criminal history, the offense, and prior missed court dates. These tools give judges greater flexibility and resources to hold defendants accountable pending trial, and to deny release when there is clear evidence that the accused poses significant risks to the community. Dew also suggests a number of alternatives to cash bail, such as electronic monitoring, mandatory counseling, and routine check-ins that allow judges to hold defendants accountable.

Proven Success of Risk-Assessment Tools

The risk-assessment tools Dew recommends have proven successful in communities where they have been used. Lucas County has seen more defendants released before trial, more defendants appearing for trial, and less crime committed by those awaiting trial. Defendants arrested while on pretrial release dropped from 20 percent to 10 percent, and skipped court dates dropped by 12 percent, even as the number of people released without money bail doubled.

Where the Current System Failed

Dew also looks at 11 cases in Ohio where the current money bail system failed, including that of Dragan Sekulic of Stark County, who, after attempting to kill his ex-wife with his car, was released on $100,000 bond. While he awaited trail, he shot and killed Zeljka.

On the other end of the spectrum is the case of Markcus Brown who spent nine days in jail after being arrested for trespassing when his clothes violated the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority’s dress code. After his arrest, Brown’s bail was set at $150, which his family could not afford. As a result, Brown sat in jail until his mother secured a car title loan nine days later.

“The Buckeye Institute’s expose on money bail is a disturbing indictment of a justice system that often jails poor people for petty crimes, and allows those accused of sexual and violent crimes to buy their way to freedom,” said Holly Harris of the Justice Action Network. “Fortunately, we now have legislation in HB 439 that would empower judges to make pre-trial release decisions based on the threat an accused person poses to society, and not on how much cash that person can pony up to the court. Given the disturbing case studies on money bail unearthed by Buckeye, some of which led to heartbreaking deaths, it is difficult to imagine any legislator on either side of the aisle voting against this bill.”

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