AG Herring wants fewer inmates sitting in jail before trial

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RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) – Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring says too many people are sitting in jail awaiting trial.  He’s proposing to reform the state’s cash bail system.

“We want to make sure that those who pose a risk to the community or a flight risk are not released, while those who are nonviolent are not sitting in jail just because they are poor,” Herring said.

If you look around any courthouse you’re likely to see a bail bondsman.

“It’s an honorable profession,” added David Bourne, President of the Virginia Bail Association. “What people don’t know about a real bondsmen is that most of them do it from the heart.”

It’s a profession that could soon be a thing of that past in the Commonwealth.  Herring wants to see Virginia’s cash bail system reformed.

“Right now, Virginia has too many low risk non violent offenders in jail awaiting trial,” Herring said.

If someone gets arrested they go before a magistrate who decides if they should be given a bond.  Bond is usually granted under two conditions. One, that a defendant will show up to court and the other that the defendant isn’t a danger to society.

“Too many are in jail and can’t afford it,” Herring added.

Herring believes the current system leaves poor defendants behind; those defendants who can’t pay a bondsman to get out of jail before trial.

“While others who pose a higher risk, maybe a flight risk or threat of violence to the community are released, simply because they have access to wealth and means,” Herring said.

To support his argument Herrings points to stats such as: Virginia has an incarceration rate nearly 150 percent more than the national average and nearly half of the state’s jail population is awaiting trial.

Herring says this creates an unneeded cost on taxpayers.  What he wants to see is more inmates who are enrolled in Pretrial Services, a type of court used supervision program.

“It costs about $3 a day per person for pretrial supervision,” Herring added.  “It costs $85 a day to house someone in a jail.” Herring explained.

In 2017, about 28,000 Virginians were released under pretrial supervision instead of sitting in jail, according to Herring’s office.

“94 percent of them showed up for their court date and 94 percent stayed out of trouble,” Herring said.

“When people hear no more cash bail that does not mean everybody just gets out,” Bourne added.

As it stands right now, suspects need to pay a bondsman 10 percent of the bond to get out.

Instead, under pretrial supervision, magistrates will use a risk assessment tool and point system to help judges determine if a defendant can be safely released before trial. It includes factors such a previous crimes, where you live and if you work. 

“There really is no gray area,” Bourne said.  “It is either pretrial services or stay in jail. That’s it.”

Bourne, who has been a bondsmen for almost 30 years believes this will cause overcrowding in the jails.

“When he eliminates bail period, if a judge is on the fence, what’s going to happen?” Bourne asked.  “If I’m a judge and not sure if I should release someone I’m going to hold him without (bail) just to be on the safe side.”

The Virginia State Crime Commission is in the process of studying cash bail.  We won’t know the results for a couple months.

California and New Jersey have already have eliminated cash bail. Last week, lawmakers introduced legislation in Hawaii to reform the system.

Herring had two cash bail bills which died in this year’s General Assembly. If lawmakers can’t get it done, Herring says he could take the issue to the Supreme Court. 


Related:

Herring calls for reforms to Virginia’s cash bail system

ACLU-VA welcomes AG Herring’s support for bail reform

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