Lawmakers Launch Bipartisan Effort To Reform Ohio's Cash Bail System
A bipartisan group of lawmakers launched another effort to overhaul the state’s bail system, which has been talked about for years and is backed by conservative and liberal groups.
The newly introduced Senate bill doesn’t eliminate cash bail, but caps it at 25% of a person’s monthly net income. Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) is sponsoring the bill with Sen. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City) and three co-sponsors, two of them Democrats.
McColley said it will help in an unequal system where some can afford the bail imposed on them and some can’t.
"There are cases routinely where an individual has imposed upon them a cash bail that they cannot afford and they are going to stay in jail for sometimes weeks or potentially even months until the disposition of their case," McColley said. "However, if that same individual had that same bail imposed upon them and they had the money to get out, that individual would not serve another day in jail.”
Rep. David Leland (D-Columbus) will be a joint sponsor of the yet-to-be-introduced companion bill in the House. He said up to 60% of people in jails, as many as 12,000 people a day, are there because they can’t afford bail.
“They could lose their jobs because people usually don't get to keep jobs. If they're stuck in jail for an extended period of time, they could lose their homes because if they don't have a job and they don't have money to pay the mortgage, then they could lose their home," Leland said. "They can even lose custody of their children because of this situation.”
Advocates argue some who can’t afford bail end up pleading to lesser crimes just to get out of jail.
That was the situation 26 years ago for Shameka Parrish-Wright. She's now the operations manager at the Bail Project, a non-profit that helps pay bail for people in need. She said in the 90s, she was arrested in a domestic violence incident with her then-fiance and spent 38 days in jail. She said she pleaded guilty to a lesser charge just to be released.
“All I wanted was to get out, see my daughter. I wanted to be home. I knew that this plea would give me a criminal record that will follow me for the rest of my life," Parrish-Wright said. "But at that moment I had no other choice. And that's the choice millions of people make.”
The bill also requires a hearing within 48 hours to determine conditions of release.
This isn't the first effort to change Ohio's bail system. A bill in 2017 attempted to tie cash bail to income. Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor has spoken out several times on her concerns about the use of cash bail with low-income defendants, and created a task force to examine the bail system.
That task force recommended a change for Ohio’s 28 counties with both multiple municipal courts and county courts. They must use a uniform bail schedule starting July 1. O’Connor said in those courts, defendants should be released on the least restrictive conditions possible but that will ensure the person returns to face the charges against them.
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