CLEVELAND — Today the Cuyahoga County Task Force on Bail, led by Common Pleas Administrative and Presiding Judge John J. Russo, released its recommendations on how to improve the county’s bail system and reduce wealth-based detention due to overreliance on money bail. The ACLU of Ohio urges Cuyahoga County judges and county officials to adopt the recommendations and begin their implementation without delay.

“The recommendations mirror some of the best bail practices implemented in other states that have helped dismantle unfair systems that keep people in jail simply because they cannot afford to pay their bond,” said Caitlin Hill, policy counsel at the ACLU of Ohio. “County leaders have taken the first step toward reform, but must now turn recommendations into reality without delay.”

Proposed reforms to Cuyahoga County’s pretrial system include speedy access to bail hearings with a right to counsel, consideration of a person’s ability to pay, reduced reliance on money bail, and a presumption of personal recognizance release for those accused of nonviolent offenses. In New Jersey, similar reforms to the bail system have resulted in a 20% reduction in the state’s pretrial jail population during the first year of implementation.

An October 2017 report from the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI), found that the Cuyahoga County Corrections Center was running at over 100% capacity for the last 3 out of 4 years of reported data, despite a reduction in crime during the same years. The study further showed that nearly 30% of people awaiting trial while detained on a bond of $5,000 or less, could not afford their release and remained in jail until their case was resolved. The average length of stay for people receiving personal recognizance bonds — meaning they ended up paying no money to leave jail — was 32 days.

“Overcrowded jails with people who have not been convicted of a crimes and could be in the community safely comes with a significant cost — to families, neighborhoods, and taxpayers. After only 72 hours in jail, research shows a person is far more likely to lose her job and housing, commit a future crime, and plead guilty to charges she did not commit,” said Mike Brickner, senior policy director at the ACLU of Ohio. “Money bail keeps families separated, prevents people from working, and costs taxpayers to house them in jail. These recommendations are a significant step forward to solve this problem.

The ACLU of Ohio will deliver a formal letter requesting that county judges and officials adopt the task force’s bail recommendations. The letter will be accompanied by hundreds of signed petitions from concerned residents requesting urgent change. “People in Cuyahoga County are hurting due to unnecessarily high bonds that keep them and their loved ones locked up. Every $200 or $500 paid to a bail bond agent to secure a loved one’s release is money that could be better spent feeding a child, securing safe housing, or paying for school,” said Hill. “That’s the real tragedy that many people never think about when tying one’s freedom to how much money they have.”