Leading criminal justice officials and reform advocates are backing a new push to reform cash bail during the next legislative session.
Louisville’s Criminal Justice Commission, a coalition of law enforcement, attorneys, city officials and others who oversee criminal justice and public safety planning in the city, approved a proposal this month raised by the The Department of Public Advocacy and made bail reform part of its legislative platform for 2020. The proposal suggests using cash bail in fewer cases, raising the standard of proof judges use to evaluate defendants’ risk to the public and their likelihood to return to court, and speeding up defendants’ hearings and trials. The commission’s legislative committee first approved the proposal in their September meeting, and it passed the full commission this month.
Public Advocate Damon Preston acknowledged that cash bail reform proposals did not have much support last year. But he believes that this year could be different.
“This is an issue that has the attention of leaders in Frankfort, and I believe something will be done in 2020 to address this,” Preston said. “My hope is that the additional conversations that we’ve had this year, after the failed bill from last year, will create a better atmosphere for passage of a bill.”
Cash bail is a system in which some people who would be jailed are given the option to pay their bond and be released. A report by the progressive Kentucky Center for Economic Policy found cash bail disproportionately hurts poorer Kentuckians and people of color. And an analysis by the Administrative Office of the Courts found many of Kentucky’s overcrowded jails are filled with non-violent offenders. More than a hundred people marched to protest the system this summer, but reform proposals in Kentucky have failed for years.
Ashley Spalding, a senior policy analyst for the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said reform is needed because many people cannot afford bail — and the commonwealth foots the bill.
“That creates not only a situation for the individual and their families, but [also] county governments. It falls on them to pay the cost of incarcerating people pre-trial,” Spalding said. “If we did have bail reform, we could see savings to our counties as well as the alleviation of the human harms that are being done.”
Louisville Metro Police spokesperson Jessie Halladay said police Chief Steve Conrad, a member of the criminal justice commission, would also support bail reform if it keeps public safety in mind.
“We believe that it is possible to reform financial bail and actually bring the focus back to public safety,” Halladay said. “Anything that will right the system to make [someone’s risk to the public and their risk to not return to court] the primary focus of the bail bond system, that’s something we can support and I think would be good for the community.”
The proposal has no bill sponsor, but Public Advocate Preston said some state legislators support it. He declined to name those legislators. Preston expects one or more bills on the issue will be proposed this legislative session.