Maryland Report Suggests Bail System Reforms

According to a report issued last month by the Justice Policy Institute, the bail system in Baltimore, Maryland, discriminates against those defendants from lower income brackets. The report specifically addresses public defenders, as according to the Maryland Court of Appeals, legal representation is mandatory to all defendants for their first hearing in front of the bail commissioner. Unfortunately, the General Assembly altered this statute so that Maryland would not be forced to increase funding to public defenders for those clients without funds. 



The issue lies in the prohibitive cost of legal counsel for the almost 75,000 hearings scheduled every year. In the words of Lisa Gladden, vice-chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee and a public defender herself:

“Typically the people that did bail reviews were new lawyers and they were positioned in central booking. That whole unit has been disbanded. Every unit from the juvenile to the district court to the circuit court, everybody in the public defender’s office, will have to do a bail review. That’s very different from what we have been accustomed to doing.”

 

This change in policy upsets the office structure, as bail reviews, which are conducted from Sunday to Friday, will now involve every attorney in the public defender’s office.

Jerome LaCorte, chief attorney in the office of the public defender believes that changes in bail representation are happening independently of this report and that these changes are critical because that initial hearing is considered a “non critical proceeding in which a defendant is not entitled to counsel.

It is an interesting fact that most people incarcerated in Baltimore jails are not even offered bail. This same report stipulates that 57% of prisoners in the Baltimore City Jail are there solely because they weren’t offered any options concerning bail or release. Of those who were offered release through bail, the financial impact is often too great and the effect seeps down through family members who are unable to help or somehow place their own finances in jeopardy in order to do so.

A project conducted at the University of Maryland concluded that 70% of those expected to pay a bond found it extremely difficult to follow through without the funds interfering with necessary expenses such as rent, utilities and/or groceries.  Many people charged with crimes aren’t criminals but if they can’t make bail they are thrown in jail as if they were. There is no hope for release until the appointed court date and whether innocent or guilty, the time lost effects everything including the loss of their employment in many cases.

According once again to the Justice Policy Institute report, a new bail system is needed in Maryland and a perfect example of one that works is the system utilized in Washington, DC. There, pretrial release does not rely on financial agreements. People can be released on their own recognizance after their level of risk is assessed.

Fairness must prevail in our justice system and fixing Maryland’s bail structure is a good start.

Posted by M Dee Dubroff, on November 2, 2012 at 9:00 AM