New Version of Bail Legislation Still Missing Needed Reforms
COLUMBUS — The ACLU of Ohio believes Substitute House Bill 439, introduced today in the House Criminal Justice Committee by Reps. Dever and Ginter, does not do enough to reduce wealth-based detention of innocent individuals and get people out of Ohio’s overcrowded jails. The legislation, which replaces the previous version of HB 439, reforms certain aspects of Ohio’s bail system, but does nothing to prevent judges from unconstitutionally using arbitrarily high money bonds to keep a person in jail, does little to reduce overreliance on money bail, and gives the bail bond industry—a group of profiteering insurance companies—a significant say in judicial bail determinations.
“HB 439 simply does not go far enough to reform our broken bail system,” said ACLU of Ohio Policy Counsel Caitlin Hill. “While we appreciate legislators working on this critical issue, there is broad bipartisan support in Ohio to end practices that leave low-income people languishing in jail. With already overcrowded jails and local communities bearing the financial brunt, now is the time for transformative changes to our justice system.”
The new version of HB 439 included some positive developments, such as clarifying that the new rules would apply to both misdemeanors and felonies. However, the substitute bill omitted a previous provision that explicitly prohibited the use of money bail if it was designed to keep the accused detained.
“Money should never be used as a means to keep a person incarcerated,” added Hill. “Under the current system, judges simply set high dollar money bonds and hope that the person does not have the financial means to be released. This does little to protect public safety, and leads to many people needlessly incarcerated. Rather than relying on money bail, judges should determine who truly must be kept in jail and utilize already existing procedures to keep that person incarcerated, no matter their wealth.”
These procedures, which include necessary due process rights for defendants, such as the right to a hearing, counsel, and appeal, follow basic constitutional principles laid down by the United States Supreme Court for the detention of pretrial defendants.
The bill also gives the corporate bail bond industry a say in judicial release decisions by mandating that the Ohio Supreme Court work and consult with representatives of the bail bond industry when validating risk assessment tools that courts will use when making bail determinations. “The bail bond industry makes billions of dollars in profits each year on the backs of low income, desperate individuals. Its interest in maintaining the status quo is obvious—tying a person’s freedom to how much money he has keeps bail bond agents in business and the shareholders happy,” stated Hill.
ACLU of Ohio will continue to monitor Sub HB 439 and advocate for better and fairer reforms to Ohio’s pretrial system.