Kentucky Politics

A group of Louisville officials and legal experts is arguing Kentucky’s cash bail system needs to change.

Panelists at the Louisville Bar Association’s bail forum on Wednesday included judges, a prosecutor and a defense attorney. They all agreed that Kentucky’s cash bail system needs to be reformed.

“The current system is broken,” said Leo Smith, Louisville Metro’s Chief Public Defender. “It needs to be repaired. What I would like to see is that we take it apart and learn from what we’ve already seen. … I think we have learned that we can do things differently, and we ought to take that to heart.”

The group argued that poor people disproportionately face negative outcomes because of the cash bail system. Many people have to stay in jail for long periods of time because they can’t afford bail. Some take plea deals just to avoid the additional financial burden of prolonged incarceration.

Louisville Urban League president and CEO Sadiqa Reynolds criticized state lawmakers’ efforts to limit charitable bail organizations amid a rash of in-custody deaths at the Metro Department of Corrections.

“When you begin to target nonprofits that are doing that kind of work, let’s be clear: you’re not targeting nonprofits,” Reynolds said. “You are targeting poor people who don’t have any other resources.”

Reynolds called for more people to be released on their own recognizance or through other administrative processes. Other members also discussed the possibility of a cashless bail system.

Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine said people who are administratively released or released on their own recognizance return for their court dates without reoffending at the same rate as those who are released on cash bail.

“We showed the whole argument — about it’s when you have skin in the game, that’s when you come back — doesn’t hold water,” Wine said. “People were coming back because that’s what they were supposed to do. … That’s on minor offenses, but that’s where the worry is: that you have somebody in jail on a minor offense.”

Wine said states that have implemented cashless systems have not experienced increases in crime rates as a result.

John Boyle is a reporter and editor at WFPL news focused on Southern Indiana. He is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.