Financial and societal impact of mandatory bail for low-level offenses must be addressed, Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice Minton says

With justice reform issues taking center stage in Kentucky and across the nation, a focus is being placed on ensuring the pre-trial justice system doesn’t disproportionately impact low-income Americans who are not able to pay their bail for a low-level non-violent offense.

According to a report from the Pegasus Institute titled Reform Opportunities in Kentucky’s Bail System, there were 64,123 non-violent, non-sexual defendants detained in Kentucky in 2016 because they could not afford their bail, staying an average of 109 days.

When low-income citizens are detained and not able to post bail, it can also force them to lose their jobs because they must remain in jail. And it is a large cost to taxpayers as local governments lost $152 million last year because of Kentucky’s current bail system, according to the Pegasus Institute.

Because of these statistics, Chief Justice John Minton of the Kentucky Supreme Court told The Bottom Line there is a movement happening across the country when it comes to pre-trial justice reforms, of which Kentucky is now at the center.

Minton said 90 percent of the people incarcerated in county jails are not serious criminals but are individuals there for low-level offenses including misdemeanors or violations, which he said is a tremendous financial burden on Kentucky counties.

“It is one of those issues, happily, that attracts both sides, both sides of the political spectrum because fiscal conservatives are very concerned about the high costs of incarceration. And folks on the other side of the political spectrum, of course, would emphasize that the constitution does say that we are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Those who insist presumption of innocence is ignored with financial bail, folks who would say that not only presumption of innocence ignored, but also the fact that this system keeps poor people in jail. People that have money can get out, people who don’t have money stay in jail,” Minton said.

In terms of ways to address the issue, Minton highlighted the “3DaysCount” initiative launched by the national Pretrial Justice Institute which Kentucky has accepted a grant to pursue. The initiative emphasizes the statistical data that even three days in jail is devastating to an individual as it is enough time they will likely lose their job.

Minton said the effort seeks to educate the judicial system on the impact of three days in jail and how to address pre-trial justice without imposing a money bail for low-level offenses.

“It’s not because they are a threat to public safety or a threat not to come back to court or a threat to re-offend or a threat to flee the jurisdiction, it’s just because we have this default system of setting a money bail that keeps them in jail,” Minton said.

“We need to keep the people in jail that we’re afraid of, that society is afraid of these people to keep them in jail, but we need to release the people if we’re just mad at them for something.” We need to find a way that they can be released from custody, go on about their jobs, pay their bills, take care of their families and deal with their legal issues because statistically, we know that 85% of those people come back to court no matter what.”

Watch the full interview segment below to hear how the issue can be addressed, what efforts will be made by the courts and/or the legislature, and other criminal justice reform initiatives in the video below:

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Jacqueline Pitts
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