A public defender in Minnesota laments the conditions at a local prison. He sees women in jail for no other reason than an inability to pay for their bail. For Dan Lew, the Northeastern Minnesota Chief Public Defender, the pretrial incarceration population at the St. Louis County jail shows common elements. Notes Lew:
The poor stay in jail, leaving aside public safety. Poverty and a bail system that doesn’t consider ability to pay is the main contributor.
Lew advocates for bail reform even as he keeps a close eye on what’s going on around the country. There have been both apparent successes and failures for bail reform, with advocates pointing to reduced jail crowding and crime even as opponents point to increases in crime (one can do a lot with statistics, it seems).
Minnesota to Follow New Jersey Bail Reform?
Therein lies a problem. New Jersey has seen some of the worst cases, including one where a woman released without bail then (allegedly) shot another woman in the face as she attempted to break into her home. As we’ve noted before, face shooting is not desirable under any circumstances. New Jersey has essentially eliminated cash bail, and uses a risk-assessment tool that failed so utterly in the face-shooter case that one must wonder if the face-shooter has friends in high computer-hacking places.
How About California Bail Reform?
Well, that seems to be going well for proponents, but a recent effort to overturn SB10, which would eliminate cash bail and go into effect in October, 2019, has gained great momentum. It appears that bail “reform” will be at least delayed in California…and maybe eliminated.
Special Case in Duluth Area
Lew notes that his neck of the woods – the Duluth area of Minnesota, may present a different situation than states on the coasts that have different dynamics at work. Says Lew:
“We can move individual practices at courthouses away from setting certain amounts of money bail. There are, I think, opportunities here for us to really begin educating folks as a whole that bail must be not just an opportunity for those who are well-heeled to be released but bail needs to be based on one’s ability to pay.”
Mark Rubin, an attorney in St. Louis County, is meanwhile urging a cautious approach to making changes:
If there’s a way we could ensure the safety of the public and reduce that number, I’d definitely be open to that idea. But I’m not aware of anything else we can be doing, short of the intensive pretrial release program that we already have. I’m not going to take the chance that someone is going to be hurt by an angry defendant or that someone is going to tamper with a witness.