Kansas’ Pretrial Release Practices May Be Changing
Imagine you’re arrested and booked into jail. Do you know what happens next? Assuming charges have been pressed against you, you will have a court appearance in front of a judge – usually within 24 hours of booking. It is then up to the judge to determine whether or not you will be released on bail.
You could be waiting several weeks before your trial begins, so having the chance to be released is vital for many individuals in order to get back to their families and their jobs. The cash bail system is in place to ensure that the defendant comes back for trial, but not without some controversy surrounding it. Now, Kansas courts are considering changing these practices.
The United States Constitution and the Kansas Constitution both guarantee the right to bail in non-capital offenses.
Proponents of cash bail argue that it’s essential for keeping people out of jail and ensuring defendants show up to court appearances; all with the main motivation to be refunded the money they’ve paid for release.
Critics, on the other hand, claim that it discriminates against the poor and those of racial minorities and that decisions for release are based solely on a person’s ability to pay.
However, it could also be argued that it is the lower-income communities who benefit from bail bond providers the most, as they are the ones who need the financial aid in order to be released. Without the ability to post bail, they are left waiting in jail until their trial – which can be detrimental to their ability to support their families – instead of being released in a timely manner and getting back home and back to work.
As of 2018, the Kansas Supreme Court has assigned a task force made up of judges, attorneys, and corrections officials to study pretrial reforms and to come up with recommendations to improve the current system by the middle of 2020.
How Judges Currently Determine Bail
A judge looks at many things when deciding whether a defendant should or should not be released on bail. Some of the factors a judge takes into account when determining bail include:
- The nature and circumstances of the crime – if it was violent or dangerous, the bail amount will be higher, or rejected altogether.
- The evidence or likeliness of a conviction – if there is an overwhelming amount of evidence against the defendant, the judge may set a higher amount for bail.
- Past conduct – if the defendant has a history of convictions or failure to appear, the bail amount may be higher.
- Criminal history – if the defendant’s criminal history shows a pattern of violence, or if they’re currently on parole or probation from another charge, the judge will typically set a higher bail, or might even reject bail altogether.
- Ties to the community – if the defendant has family ties, has a history of employment, has proof of residence, or plays a role in the community, the judge may be more willing to set a lower bail amount.
A Proposed Plan
One of the proposed alternatives to current pretrial release practices is a statistics-based system, which is already being used by some counties in Kansas. This system is designed to take the information gathered from past arrests and trials, and determine any characteristics that may result in a defendant skipping court dates or committing another crime once released.
The defendants are then assigned a risk level based on which characteristics, or factors, they met. This risk level goes on to recommend what the bail amount should be.
The nature of the charge also affects the outcome of the risk assessment. For example, both DUI and drug-related charges are considered risk factors, with the drug-related charge being assigned a higher risk than the DUI charge.
The risk factors are then computed into a numerical score, which the judge then uses to determine the conditions of bail. Those who have been calculated as an “extreme” risk are recommended for the highest bond amounts, while those calculated as “low” or “moderate” risk are assigned lower bond amounts, or may even be released on their own personal recognizance (released solely based on a promise to return for any hearings).
In the end, it is still up to the judge to decide whether to set a cash bail amount and if so for how much.
Johnson County has used this risk system since 2014, and revised it multiple times.
The Argument Against the Proposed System
Those who continue to support the current bail system argue that the proposed algorithm has racial and class-based biases built into the system. It’s been found that people of color and of lower income are more likely to be arrested by police. Because the formula for the new statistic-based system is calculated off past arrests and trials, that history of discrimination is consequentially factored into the proposed algorithm.
It’s also argued that judgments shouldn’t be made based on other people’s decisions from the past. Instead, it’s encouraged that each case be given individualized attention when determining conditions for pretrial release.
Now We Wait
Issues including public safety, prison population, and racial and income bias are sure to be the main areas of attention for the task force, and so will be the statistics-based system. Both sides present valid arguments – but is there ever going to be a perfect solution? Probably not. So, for now, it looks like we’ll just have to wait until 2020 to see what changes, if any, are made to the pretrial practices in Kansas.
In the meantime, Big Fish Bail Bonds is here to help pay your bail and get you out of jail. Call us, day or night, for help. Serving Sedgwick, Butler, Sumner, Greenwood, and Elk counties. Bond services are available 24/7!
Check out our featured video (Baby Shark Dance – Big Fish Bail Bonds Video):