A new story in the Maryland Daily Record reports on the dramatic reduction on the use of cash bail in Maryland (“With cash bail down and releases up, stakeholders turn attention to pretrial services“). Perhaps most notably, while the use of cash bail dropped from around 40 percent of criminal cases in 2016 to about 14 percent since a new rule limiting its use went into effect in July 2017, the percentage of people who fail to appear in court has remained relatively steady. This shatters the myth that limiting the use of cash bail threatens public safety.
Pretrial reform has been a key priority for the Open Society Institute since 2016, when OSI convened the Coalition for a Safe and Just Maryland, a broad range of community activists and state and national advocacy groups, including the ACLU of Maryland, the Public Justice Center, Out for Justice, Job Opportunities Task Force, the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, and others who have worked toward statewide pretrial justice reform.
Colin Starger, co-director of the Pretrial Justice Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law, a member of the coalition, told the Daily Record that the steady “Failure to Appear” (FTA) rate should make judges even more comfortable releasing defendants who don’t pose a threat to public safety and reduce the use of cash bail even further.
“I think that would make a big difference,” Starger said in the story. “I think when judges start to see that FTA rates haven’t gone through the roof, that the sky hasn’t fallen, they may be more comfortable releasing people.”
The other key to expanding pretrial reform, several people quoted agree, is expanding pretrial services around the state. Last January, OSI released a report, “Steps in the Right Direction: Maryland Counties Leading the Way in Pretrial Services,” that described successful pretrial programs in St. Mary’s County, Montgomery County, and Baltimore City, and advocated for expanded services throughout the state. During the 2018 legislative session, the General Assembly approved $1 million in state funding for pretrial services.
Sen. Bobby Zirkin, the Judicial Proceedings Committee chair who supported a bill during the 2017 session that would have reversed the new rule, now says that more pretrial services are needed to make sure the rule works.
“Our goal is to ensure that these pretrial systems are as beefed up as we can to ensure the success of the rule,” he told the Daily Record. “Our focus… is to continue to augment pretrial services like mental health and drug treatment and to assist the Judiciary in making this a success.”
In another story, the Maryland Daily Record reports on the Judiciary’s proposal to use text messages to remind defendants of court dates, a step that has had a significant impact of FTA rates in other states.