Delaware Strengthens Bail Reform Movement

Governing

By J.B. Wogan

Delaware Gov. John Carney signed a bill late last week that places the state among a small group that has moved away from cash bail.

“You have poor people who pose no risk of flight or no risk to the community incarcerated on a full-time basis before trial,” says Delaware state Sen. Bryan Townsend, a co-sponsor of the bill. “That’s not at all what the criminal justice system is supposed to be about.”

On any given day, jails across the country house some 700,000 people — many of whom are there because they can’t afford to pay bail. In Delaware, officials say about 25 percent of the prison population is made up of people awaiting court dates.

The problem with cash bail, says Insha Rahman, an expert on bail reform at the Vera Institute of Justice, a research and advocacy organization, is that it isn’t an effective or fair “sorting mechanism” for who should be detained and who shouldn’t.

“Money doesn’t guarantee that people won’t engage in new criminal activity,” she says, “and it doesn’t guarantee that people will come back to court.”

Other states that have moved away from cash bail include Arizona, New Mexico, Maryland, New Jersey and the District of Columbia. But that number is likely to grow: More than 40 states have task forces or commissions considering changes to bail and pretrial detention, according to the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

“We’re at a moment where people are in agreement — and state governments are in agreement — that our current framing of bail doesn’t work,” says Rahman.

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