In April Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed into law House Bill 1225 which states that those accused of low level offenses such as petty theft, routine traffic violations and a variety of municipal charges can no longer be held in jail because they are unable to afford to pay a cash bail. In addition, the new law states that those currently being held on such charges because they can’t afford their bail must be immediately released. The Governor and a slew of anti-bail lobbyists hailed the bill as one that corrects a grave injustice and sets the stage for future reform. A prospect that should alarm every Colorado taxpayer.
While the anti-bail hyperbole was flowing like honeyed nectar in the wake of the Governor’s signing of HB1225 the fact is the number of people the bill actually “frees” is estimated to be somewhere between “none” and “several”. Hardly the Emancipation Proclamation. Although you wouldn’t know that to listen to supporters like Rep. Leslie Herod of Denver. “If you are thinking about putting someone in jail right now for a low-level offense and putting cash bail on them for $100 or $200 or $300, you can’t do it anymore,” she proudly proclaimed.
Thing is, virtually no one is being held in jail in Colorado on a petty offense because they can’t afford bail bonds. According to Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock the number of such cases is “few, very few”. Routt County Undersheriff Doug Scherar agreed, stating that there was no one being held in jail in Routt County on a petty or municipal offense. So why bother even passing a bill like this in the first place? The answer: precedent and publicity.
Those who have been trying to bring down the cash bail system for the past decade have discovered that people in the nation’s interior are not as gullible as those who reside on the coasts. In states like New Jersey and California these “reformers” have had a fairly easy time dismantling a system that has ensured both the rights of the defendant and the rights of the victim for centuries.
In Texas, Colorado, Missouri and other states reformers have had their efforts meet with failure in state houses and have had to resort to enlisting the help of activist judges to try and create law from the bench. At the same time they are trying to chip away piece by piece at the bail bonding system in order to set legal precedents they can build upon going forward.
In addition, they are desperate for photos and stories that put a positive spin on their efforts. So having photos of the Governor and other lawmakers standing around with big smiles, sharing congratulatory handshakes and spouting meaningless platitudes about HB1225 is bail reform PR gold. It helps to soften up the citizenry and con them into thinking that freeing everyone accused of a crime on nothing more than the promise that they’ll show up in court is somehow a good thing. It’s not.
In 2017 the state of New Jersey, desperate to reduce the cost of maintaining a large prison population, all but did away with cash bail. By 2018 lawmakers were touting the fact that the prison population had been reduced by 20%. This, the people were told, was proof that bail had been the agent that was trampling on people’s rights and causing overcrowding. A new computer algorithm would tell judges if someone was a flight risk or not and if they weren’t they would simply be released without bail.
What they fail to mention, even today, is that the algorithm doesn’t work. The truth of that statement lies in the fact that the number of people not showing up for their scheduled court appearance has increased by more than 45% since bail was eliminated in favor of the algorithm. If the algorithm worked the number of people skipping out on their court appearances would be going down. Not up.
In addition, monitoring all the many thousands of people being released without bail has become so expensive that the New Jersey judiciary has warned the state it will need to raise taxes to pay for the monitoring system or it will soon go bankrupt. Taxpayers in Jefferson County, Arapahoe County and Denver County should keep that fact in the forefront of their minds when the snake-oil salesmen of bail “reform” come knocking.
The fact is House Bill 1225 had very little to do with anything other than bail reformers trying to create legal precedent and photo ops they could use against the people of Colorado. It’s part of their multi-pronged strategy to undo bail bonding that includes more broad-based legislation as well as enlisting the help of activist judges intent on circumventing the will of the people by legislating from the bench.
Don’t fall for it. The bail system is best system yet developed for protecting the presumption of innocence while at the same time ensuring defendants show up to face their accusers. It has worked for nearly a thousand years and it continues to work tens of thousands of times every day in cities and towns great and small. Is it perfect? No. But the sins of the bail system are child’s play next to the judicial chaos and financial ruin that awaits states that choose discredited computer systems to dispense justice.