The argument for and against bail reform is one that consistently sees either side throw out stories as examples of how reform efforts are either far off base, or working just fine. The truth, of course, is that there are notable successes and failures, and there’s still a long way to go to determine what the best solution is for criminal justice reform more broadly and the “new” system of bail that will exist in the future. Doing away with bail altogether seems quite foolhardy, though many or loathe to admit that. Instead, proponents of reform are idealistic, and pushing for legislation that will both eliminate cash bail and, frankly, let just about everyone (if not everyone) go pending their trials.
Law & Order Prevails
In practice, that’s never going to happen. There is and will remain enough of a “law and order” element in the U.S. that simply letting every defendant wander the streets after allegedly committing violent crimes is just not going to happen. Or, if it does, it’s going to result in many more problems than it supposedly solves – a sort of “Grand Theft Auto” meets the “Zombie Apocalypse” seems the most apt comparison.
Perhaps one of the most notable oddities to come out of the bail reform fight is alignment of both bail agents and civil libertarians against the measures that are going into place. Of course, bondsmen want the status quo preserved, while the ACLU and other similar groups want a wide-open system that errs on the side of leniency.
The 8 Minute Bail Hearing
It’s not “8 minute abs,” but the siren song of efficiency is surely appealing to overworked folks in courtrooms around the country. We mentioned the stories that come out. One from New Jersey is particular interesting.
Brandon Darby, a 51-year-old arrested there for possession of a deadly weapon, went to his pretrial hearing in November. The algorithm New Jersey uses to judge flight risk and likelihood to re-offend indicated that he was a “4” on flight risk and “5” on re-offending. That’s out of a total of 6, so clearly Darby was a “bad guy” according to the algo.
Accordingly, Darby was held without bail. But Darby says he’s never missed a court date and that the data used by the algorithm are skewed. Showing a level of shrewdness that Mark Twain would admire, Darby noted “We all know that we can make numbers say whatever you want them to say.”
Learning from Experience
J. Jondhi Harrell, 63, spent 25 years in prison for federal bank robbery and weapons charges. He was released in 2009 and founded the Center for Returning Citizens. By all accounts, Harrell seems like one of the good guys who was generally rehabilitated (or who didn’t require it in the first place, though that’s hard to say).
A computer risk algorithm can’t measure who you can become.
It appears many are in agreement with Harrell. The ACLU, NAACP, and MoveOn all oppose the algorithms. As noted, those groups espouse a system that both eliminates cash bail and the use of an algorithm. The point, for them, is to simply let more people go. That sounds like a bad idea, but as long as law-abiding citizens feel comfortable with folks who are more likely to commit crimes being in their midst (and sanctioned tacitly by the state), perhaps it really would work. As always, that solution seems overly simplistic and quite unrealistic.