NPR Fails to Provide a Balanced Perspective on Bail Reform

NPR failed to respond to a call for balanced and unbiased coverage regarding recent Weekend Edition Sunday piece, “What Changed After D.C. Ended Cash Bail.” The piece, an interview with DC Judge Truman Morrison, failed to include any commentary that challenged Morrison’s perspective on the bail industry or presented data to support his claims.

NPR’s Melissa Block and her editors failed to acknowledge or respond when United Bail of America reached out to present balance in the form of the below Letter to the Editor:


September 7, 2018
To Whom It May Concern:

 Regarding the Weekend Edition Sunday piece “What Changed After D.C. Ended Cash Bail” (September 2, 2018): Washington, D.C. hasn’t used the cash bail system since 1992, but that doesn’t mean other states should follow suit.

New Mexico and New Jersey are prime examples of the devastating consequences of bail reform. New Jersey regularly releases dangerous defendants on their own recognizance under the Bail Reform Act of 2017, including a member of a fraudulent credit card manufacturing ring, an arsonistan Uber driver who was charged with distributing heroin and a man with multiple outstanding warrants who made terroristic threats. And that's only in the last few weeks.

Judge Morrison may believe that these defendants “would have bought their way out of jail” anyway, but are these really the types of defendants we want roaming the streets without oversight or the consequences that come from skipping bail or failing in the conditions of their release?

In fact, in some jurisdictions that have passed bail reform acts, failure to appear rates have skyrocketed over 40 percent, leaving unaccounted for defendants in communities and exhausting already limited police resources. In Washington D.C., 88 percent of defendants may make their court date, but that is clearly the exception and not the rule.

What’s more, that statistic comes at a vast cost to taxpayers. As it stands now, bail is a pretrial service provided by private business, specifically bail agents, and funded by defendants. In Washington D.C., with nearly 600,000 taxpayers and an annual budget of $65 million for pretrial services, United Bail of America (UBA) estimates that each taxpayer contributes about $108 annually to release and monitor approximately 2.6 percent of the District’s population. Now imagine the cost to taxpayers in larger states like California or Florida where UBA estimates a $3.7 billion and $2.7 billion annual cost, respectively.

Furthermore, Judge Morrison explains that Washington D.C. uses risk assessments to determine who gets released without paying bail. Risk assessments rely on “science” to predict human behavior, which can never be 100 percent accurate. Morrison fails to explain the expense of such algorithms, which sometimes require multi-million dollar upgrades to underfunded criminal courts across the country. Judge Morrison does admit that these assessments can actually further the inherent biases of the criminal justice system, a belief also shared by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Human Rights Watch.

With a 12 percent failure to appear rate and a 4 percent re-offense rate, Washington, D.C. may post higher success rates than other states with similar pretrial programs, but it’s still not a perfect system. Just ask Kevin Sutherland, whose nephew was stabbed to death by a man released on his own recognizance after assaulting a police officer. If nothing else, this proves that statistics don’t always paint a clear picture.

Bail is not a tax on poor people, as Judge Morrison and criminal justice activists like to preach. Judges are responsible for setting bail and the conditions of release. The bail system simply holds defendants accountable for showing up to their trial so a judge or jury can determine their guilt or innocence – the backbone of our criminal justice system. 

There are certain criminal justice reforms we can all agree on, but the elimination of bail is not one of them. Effective reform will set reasonable bail schedules, hold courts accountable for any discriminatory practices and allow for speedier trials. 

Don Mescia
Executive Director, United Bail of America