Bail Reform

Post bail, By Jon Schuppe, August 20, 2017, NBC News: “On the ground floor of a deteriorating county courthouse, in a room outfitted with temporary office furniture and tangles of electrical wires, a cornerstone of America’s criminal justice system is crumbling. A 20-year-old man in a green jail jumpsuit appears on a video monitor that faces a judge. It is early June, and he has been arrested for driving a car with a gun locked in the glove compartment.  If he were in almost any other courtroom in the country, he’d be ordered to stay behind bars until he posted bail — if he could afford it. This is what millions of people charged with crimes from shoplifting to shootings have done for more than two centuries. The bail system, enshrined in the Bill of Rights, is meant to ensure that all defendants, presumed innocent before trial, get a shot at freedom and return to court. But allowing people to pay for their release has proved unfair to people who don’t have much money…”

Bail System – Illinois

Rauner signs law to change rules for paying cash to get out of jail, By Kim Geiger, June 9, 2017, Chicago Tribune: “Low-level offenders who have been arrested and can’t come up with enough money to get out of jail can get a rehearing of their bail amount, under a plan signed into law Friday by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner…”

Public Defender Fees – Los Angeles

L.A. County ends public defender ‘registration fee’, By Nina Agrawal, June 6, 2017, Los Angeles Times: “The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to eliminate the $50 ‘registration fee’ that the public defender’s office and other court-appointed counsel may charge defendants before providing them with legal services…”

Nuisance Policies and Eviction

ACLU sues city over nuisance policy, alleges it punishes domestic violence victims, By Mary Emily O’Hara, April 7, 2017, NBC News: “The ACLU filed a lawsuit Friday against the city of Maplewood, Missouri, over a policy that allegedly evicts domestic violence victims and banishes them from the St. Louis suburb if they call police for help more than twice in six months…”

Court Fines and the Poor

An alternative to paying court debt: Working it off, By Rebecca Beitsch, April 4, 2017, Stateline: “When Steven Robinson first landed in county jail here for cocaine possession about a year ago, he had about $12,000 in court debt and his driver’s license had been suspended for more than 20 years because he never paid off earlier fines and fees. But Robinson, 47, and other inmates in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail are allowed to do community service to work off the debt that they rack up in fines and fees on their way through the court system. By doing more than 1,000 hours of community service while serving time, Robinson has gotten his debt down to about $5,000…”

Bail System – California

Here’s how state lawmakers plan to reform the bail system in CaliforniaBy Jazmine Ulloa, March 26, 2017, Los Angeles Times: “State lawmakers have unveiled an ambitious plan to reform how counties in California set bail for defendants while they wait for their cases to be resolved or go to trial.  New language added Friday to bills by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) would prevent criminal defendants from having to post money as a condition of release from jail and would shift some power from judges to pretrial services agencies to assess the risks they would pose if allowed out in the community…”

Public Defender System – Missouri

Missouri sued over low funding for public defender system, By Margaret Stafford (AP), March 9, 2017, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Missouri’s public defender system is so badly underfunded and understaffed its lawyers are unable to provide even rudimentary representation for indigent clients, who often languish in jail or appear in court without attorneys, according to a class-action lawsuit seeking to force the state to increase funding…”

Legal Services Corporation

Draft of first Trump budget would cut legal aid for millions of poor Americans, By Tom McCarthy, February 21, 2017, The Guardian: “Cuts in Donald Trump’s first draft budget to funding for legal aid for millions of Americans could strip much-needed protections from victims of domestic violence, people with disabilities, families facing foreclosure and veterans in need, justice equality advocates warned Tuesday…”

Prison Diversion Programs and the Poor

  • After a crime, the price of a second chance, By Shaila Dewan and Andrew W. Lehren, December 12, 2016, New York Times: “During the tough financial times of 2011, Marcy Willis, a single mother who raised five children in Atlanta, used her credit card to rent a car for an acquaintance in exchange for cash. But the man — and the car — disappeared, she said. Four months later, when Ms. Willis finally recovered the car and returned it, she was charged with felony theft.  As a first-time offender, Ms. Willis, 52, qualified for a big break: a program called pretrial intervention, also known as diversion. If she took 12 weeks of classes, performed 24 hours of community service and stayed out of trouble, her case would be dismissed and her arrest could be expunged, leaving her record clean…”
  • Alabama prosecutor sets the penalties and fills the coffers, By Shaila Dewan and Andrew W. Lehren, December 13, 2016, New York Times: “It was a run-of-the-mill keg party in an open field, until one guest, Harvey Drayton Burch III, objected to paying for his beer. Witnesses said Mr. Burch fired a gun over the crowd and began spraying Mace. With partyers fleeing, Mr. Burch jumped into the back seat of a car as it drove away.  The driver had a name well known in Henry County: Douglas A. Valeska II, the son of the local district attorney. When the car was stopped, a deputy found a loaded magazine and knife in Mr. Burch’s pocket, a gun and pepper spray in a backpack, and a pink pill on the floorboard. After Mr. Burch admitted to firing his weapon, he was arrested. The district attorney arrived to take his son and two other passengers home…”

Public Defender System – Indiana

Indiana’s public defender system flawed, study says, By Fatima Hussein, October 24, 2016, Indianapolis Star: “The state’s public defender system is not only woefully underfunded, legal experts say, the Sixth Amendment right to a fair and speedy trial is routinely violated in Indiana.  Lack of oversight of the public defense system, inconsistent funding and subpar representation contribute to the problems, the experts said…”

Court Fines and the Poor

Court costs entrap nonwhite, poor juvenile offenders, By Erik Eckholm, August 31, 2016, New York Times: “When Dequan Jackson had his only brush with the law, at 13, he tried to do everything right.  Charged with battery for banging into a teacher while horsing around in a hallway, he pleaded guilty with the promise that after one year of successful probation, the conviction would be reduced to a misdemeanor.  He worked 40 hours in a food bank. He met with an anger management counselor. He kept to an 8 p.m. curfew except when returning from football practice or church.  And he kept out of trouble. But Dequan and his mother, who is struggling to raise two sons here on wisps of income, were unable to meet one final condition: payment of $200 in court and public defender fees. For that reason alone, his probation was extended for what turned out to be 14 more months, until they pulled together the money at a time when they had trouble finding quarters for the laundromat…”

US Bail System and the Poor

  • Obama’s lawyers challenge the money bail system: Can people be kept in jail just because they are poor?, By David Savage, August 25, 2016, Chicago Tribune: “President Obama’s civil rights lawyers are seeking a potentially far-reaching ruling to hold that the Constitution forbids the common practice of keeping people in jail prior to a trial, even for minor offenses, just because they are too poor to pay for bail.  Every day, about 450,000 people are held under arrest in city and county jails because they cannot afford bail, according to the Southern Center for Human Rights and Equal Justice Under Law, a small Washington-based civil rights group…”
  • Justice department steps in against jailing practices that target poor people, By Jamiles Lartey, August 24, 2016, The Guardian: “Maurice Walker’s case is far from exceptional.  Arrested on 3 September 2015 for public intoxication, Walker, a 54-year-old black man with a serious mental disorder that leaves him unable to work, was faced with two options: pay a $160 cash bond and leave jail that day, or remain in jail over a holiday weekend. Walker told officials that he couldn’t afford the standard bond required by the city for the misdemeanor and wound up spending six days in jail, only being allowed out of his cell for an hour a day. Walker said he was also denied daily medication he took for his disorder…”

Court Fines and the Poor

Debtors prison a thing of the past? Some places in America still lock up the poor, By Rick Anderson, June 8, 2016, Los Angeles Times: “Unemployed and fighting to stay clean, Jayne Fuentes had few options when a judge offered her a particularly unappealing choice – go to jail or spend her days on a work crew. Her crime? Being too poor to pay the fines and court costs that came with a drug conviction and several theft charges…”

Court Fines and the Poor

How prison debt ensnares offenders, By Juleyka Lantigua-Williams, June 2, 2016, The Atlantic: “Even after serving time for a felony conviction, former inmates can remain legally bound to the judicial system for the rest of their lives due to court-imposed fines and fees related to their crime. In some counties in Washington State that adds up to an average of $9,204, according to Alexes Harris’s new book A Pound of Flesh…”

Public Defender System – Louisiana

On the defensive, By Dylan Walsh, June 2, 2016, The Atlantic: “Concordia Parish extends tall and narrow along the Mississippi River, where the ankle of Louisiana meets the instep. Almost one-third of its 20,000 residents live below the federal poverty line. Strip malls dominate Vidalia, the parish seat. Smaller satellite towns are home to Pentecostal mega-churches, defunct gas stations, and tin-sided shacks selling crawfish for $2 a pound. State highways run through low fields once flush with cotton that was picked by slaves and sold across the river to Natchez.  Near the river is the parish courthouse, a low-slung building made of concrete and set behind a grassy berm. The court opens at 9:30, but the halls fill before then. People sit on the floor outside the double-doors of the courtroom entrance, crowd together on benches, wander around to find the offices where they can get the documents or signatures that they need…”

Public Defender System – Louisiana

In Louisiana, the poor lack legal defense, By Campbell Robertson, March 19, 2016, New York Times: “It was arraignment morning at the Vermilion Parish courthouse, the monthly catalog of bad decisions, hot tempers, hard hearts and hard luck. Natasha George, who until recently was one of 10 lawyers defending the poor of the parish, stood before the full gallery of defendants. ‘I’m the public defender in Vermilion Parish, right now the only public defender,’ she said. ‘Due to a lack of funding for our district and our office, today we will be taking applications for our service but you will be put on a wait list.’ Over the next hour, a steady stream of people left the courthouse and headed out into the rain, nearly all holding a sheet of paper explaining that as the poor and accused of Vermilion Parish they were, for now, on their own…”

Court Fines and the Poor

  • Justice Dept. tells state judges to stop targeting the poor, By Cathaleen Chen, March 14, 2016, Christian Science Monitor: “As part of the Obama administration’s latest civil rights initiative that examines individual states, the Justice Department is now calling out state court systems for operating ‘unconstitutional’ policies that unfairly target poor people in a cycle of fines, debt, and imprisonment.  ‘This unconstitutional practice is often framed as a routine administrative matter,’ Vanita Gupta, the Justice Department’s top civil rights prosecutor, wrote to chief judges and court administrator warning them against procedures like using arrest warrants to collect fines and debts…”
  • Justice Dept. condemns profit-minded court policies targeting the poor, By Matt Apuzzo, March 14, 2016, New York Times: “The Justice Department on Monday called on state judges across the country to root out unconstitutional policies that have locked poor people in a cycle of fines, debt and jail. It was the Obama administration’s latest effort to take its civil rights agenda to the states, which have become a frontier in the fight over the rights of the poor and the disabled, the transgender and the homeless…”

Public Defenders – Missouri

Missouri public defender director warns his department is in crisis, Associated Press, February 21, 2016, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “The director of Missouri’s public defenders is warning that the state’s chronically underfunded system for representing poor people has become a ‘house of cards’ that could face a federal lawsuit if it’s not improved. The Office of the State Public Defender is asking for a funding boost of more than $25 million for the fiscal year that starts in July, but Gov. Jay Nixon’s budget proposal calls for a $1.5 million increase to the department. Most of it slated for ‘representation costs,’ though he isn’t proposing to add more full-time employees…”

Bail System – Connecticut

Gov. Malloy proposes elimination of bail for some offenders, By Daniela Altimari, January 28, 2016, Hartford Courant: “Standing in a church in the North End Thursday afternoon, Gov.Dannel P. Malloy outlined his plan to take on a bail system that dates from medieval England. The Democratic governor is proposing an end to bail for low-risk defendants charged with low-level crimes. In cases where bond is set as a condition of release, Malloy is calling for a new system that would permit defendants to sidestep bail bondsmen and put up a cash deposit directly with the court in order to secure their freedom…”