Court, Orange County panelists say bail reform could give justice to poor, minorities

”One of the reasons that people have been staying in jail and ridiculous bonds are being set is because judges are afraid to let people out and they are afraid of what harm might result if they let somebody out,” Dexter said.

Don Mescia, executive director of United Bail of America, countered that bail usually is reserved for those who show repeatedly that they can’t be trusted to show up for court or stay clear of the law if released. They should be held accountable, rather than blaming the bail industry, he said.

One option is ensuring that no one sits in jail for more time than he or she would receive if convicted of the alleged crime, Mescia said, noting that would take a bigger public investment in prosecutors and public defenders.

“It really blows our mind as a bail industry,” he said. “We understand that there should be criminal justice reform — more programs, lesser sentences, re-entry programs allowing folks to find jobs, deleting out maybe a felony conviction, restoring voting rights after a certain amount of time for people with non-violent offenses … but as far as the bail structure, [bondsmen] are usually the last [resort].”

Change is happening

News reports show bail reform programs still have some kinks. In Baltimore and St. Louis, for instance, Mescia said more people are behind bars because bail reform has let mathematical algorithms decide their risk level instead of a judge.

A Baltimore Sun report notes that Baltimore’s pretrial incarceration rate also grew because more defendants deemed a high risk — from about 7.5 percent to roughly 20 percent since last year — were held without bail.

The Herald Sun, Tammy Grubb 07/31/18