A CALL TO CHANGE MARYLAND’S UNFAIR MONEY BAIL SYSTEM
Maryland holds more than 6,000 citizens daily in pretrial detention. The majority have not been convicted, were arrested for nonviolent offenses, and willingly would appear for their day in court. Some may have mental health problems, others may have had one drink too many, some may have forgotten an appointment with a probation officer, but all have this in common: they cannot afford to post a money bail bond to be released. They are kept in jail for one reason: poverty.
Maryland’s Attorney General questions the constitutionality of keeping citizens in jail just because they are poor. However, Maryland judges continue to set high money bail bonds that low-income individuals can’t pay. If defendants do post bond, the amount due to bail bondsmen can consume months of wages. They can’t get this money back, even when they appear for their trial dates or charges are dropped.
Imprisoning low-risk offenders awaiting trials has other serious consequences: Research shows that many lose their jobs and housing while awaiting trial. Family ties may be stressed to the breaking point. Too often, innocent individuals will take a guilty plea—and a lifetime criminal record— just to get out of jail.
Adding to the devastating personal impact, pretrial jail time costs taxpayers over $100 per day per inmate—much more than the $2.50 per day per inmate of proven pretrial release and supervision programs.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
- Maryland’s court system can adopt standards to avoid detention due only to poverty and to ensure the “least onerous” conditions for release of citizens awaiting trial consistent with public safety.
- Maryland’s General Assembly can approve the 2017 Maryland Pretrial – Justice Reinvestment Act (PJRA), to implement pretrial systems proven effective elsewhere in the U.S. With PJRA’s toolkit, we can cut pretrial detention, save taxpayer funds, improve public safety and provide pretrial fairness regardless of income. Improvements include:
- increased use of citations in lieu of arrest;
- screening out “low risk” offenders;
- statewide coordination for “best practices”;
- prompt prosecutorial screening, especially for cases involving pretrial detention;
- expediting “technical” violation of probation cases to avoid delays; and
- diversion programs to redirect appropriate individuals to mental health, substance abuse, mediation, and “restorative justice” programs as available.
- Maryland’s Governor could lead these pretrial / improvement efforts.
PJRA provisions are outlined at http://www.ma4jr.org/pretrial-fact-sheet and FAQs
With our signatures below, we Marylanders urge the Maryland’s General Assembly, Courts, and Governor Hogan to support the 2017 Maryland Pretrial – Justice Reinvestment Act (PJRA) and other pretrial improvements to reduce unnecessary pretrial detention, increase public safety, support Maryland families, and reduce taxpayer costs.