Bipartisan Bills Unveiled to Reform Cash Bail System

Skewed system costs taxpayers millions while low-income defendants await trial
Friday, October 5, 2018

LANSING — A group of bipartisan legislators have introduced House Bills 6455-6463 to fundamentally reform Michigan’s cash bail system. If enacted, the legislation could potentially save taxpayers millions while also reducing the number of defendants awaiting trial in county jails. The package would also go a long way toward ending often catastrophic disruptions to the lives of people who are not able to post bond and are held in jail for minor offenses when a wealthier person would go free.

“We all know that in America, people are presumed innocent when they are accused,” said state Rep. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids), who sponsors House bill 6456 the lead bill in the package. “Yet our justice system doesn't give rich and poor the same freedoms. Our liberty is precious. We should only take away a non-convicted person’s freedom if they are a danger to the community or a flight risk. Small dollar cash bonds that keep people locked up before they’ve been tried don't contribute to our safety, but they can do damage to employers, employees and families. A person's failure to post a small bond because of a cash shortage can lead to a loss of a job or housing and separates parents from children. You can't give someone back time they were locked up, and incarceration should never happen based on wealth. It's time for a change.”

The population of county jails has increased over the last 20 years, in part due to the number of people stuck behind bars awaiting trial and unable to make low-dollar bail. In Michigan, approximately 41 percent of the county jail population is comprised of pre-trial detainees who cannot afford a modest cash bail[1]. This comes at a price tag of approximately $150 million annually for Michigan taxpayers. The repercussions for detainees are often staggering, putting or perpetuating the defendant in a cycle of poverty — regardless of their actual guilt or innocence.

The legislation would:

  • Make personal recognizance bonds the default form of pre-trial release. Judges would still have the ability to set cash bond if they determine the defendant poses a risk to the community, is considered a flight risk, or has a history of missing court dates.
  • Create an assessment process to determine a person’s financial situation and assets, which a judge would then use in the event that a cash bond is set. A judge would be required to explain his or her rationale for setting the price of a cash bond.
  • Require courts to collect and submit quarterly data to the state Supreme Court about the cash bonds they levy and collect to assure that the cash bond system is not abused.
  • Urge local governments to use the savings from cash bond reforms for community policing efforts.

“Someone who made a mistake shouldn’t be at risk of losing her job or her kids because she can’t afford a $100 or $200 bail,” said Rep. LaGrand. “We can’t have a two-track justice system for the rich and the poor. Due process should mean that rich and poor alike are treated fairly in our criminal justice system and that low-income Michiganders don’t suffer unduly when they have not been convicted of a crime.”