West Virginia Becomes Latest State to Reject Bail Elimination Measures

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West Virginia Justice System

Bail reform mercenaries have been crisscrossing the country in the past few years trying desperately to sell their snake oil to short-sighted politicians. No surprise that they’ve found plenty of them in places like New York and California. In West Virginia however, where common sense is still held in high regard, legislators recently rejected the fundamentally flawed notion that releasing more criminals onto the streets makes for a fair, safe society.

HB 2190 was pushed by a large number of out of state lobbyists as well as by the ACLU and sought to remove from WV judges the ability to determine whether or not a defendant should be held or released, with or without bail. The legislation would have left that decision entirely in the hands of a computer program (produced in secret by a private organization by the way) and eliminated entirely the bail bonding option. All allegedly in the name of "fairness."

Fairness Has Nothing to do With it

One of the favorite buzzwords anti-bail lobbyists and their legislative allies like to toss around is "fairness." Eliminating bail, they say, will restore "fairness" to the criminal justice system. Fairness is certainly one of the principles that should be front and center when it comes to criminal justice. But does eliminating bail actually make the system more fair? West Virginia legislators understood all too well that it doesn’t. Not even close.

  • Where is the “fairness” for the victims? - Eliminating one kind of unfairness (rich people can afford any bail bonds while poor people can't) and replacing it with a different kind of unfairness (victims are less likely to see justice in a no-bail, everyone goes free environment) is and should be a non-starter. Take El Paso County Texas as an example. In that county, the number of no-shows in court skyrocketed from about 10% under the old bail system, to nearly 40% under the no-bail system they enacted. That means that 40% of victims waited in court like fools while the accused was out hanging with his buddies or sleeping in. Where’s the fairness in that?
  • Where is the “fairness” when judges can hold whoever they want? - In West Virginia, HB 2190 would have completely removed judicial discretion in deciding who is released and who isn’t. California’s so-called bail reform measure (SB10) went in the opposite direction and gave judges sweeping powers to hold whoever they want for whatever reason they want. This creates a situation where a defendant in one California County may be allowed to walk free by judge A, while another defendant accused of the exact same crime in a different county may be held over for trial by judge B. Where’s the fairness in that?
  • Where is the “fairness” for taxpayers? - When the bail reform circus rolls into town, one of the first lies that's bandied about is that having fewer people in jail will save taxpayers money. On the surface, this seems to make sense. And as a result, many voters actually voice initial support for bail reform. And then the bill comes due. It's estimated that in California alone, the state will need to spend more than $200 million to set up the high tech tracking system that will be necessary to keep tabs on everyone released without bail. With some estimates running as high as $300 million. Once established, it will take tens of millions more each year to sustain it. On top of that, the state will need to spend millions more chasing down fugitives who used to be tracked down by the bondsman at no charge to the state. You know who’s going to pay these new costs? That’s right. You. The taxpayer. And do you know who pays the price for lying to taxpayers? Nobody. Where’s the fairness in that?

A Fly in the Ointment of the Anti-Bail Bonds Movement

The great myth of bail bonds reform is that it has to be an either/or proposition. That the only way to fix what ails the bail system (and nobody is saying it’s perfect) is to eliminate it entirely. This is a dangerous fiction with potentially devastating consequences. The fact is that it doesn’t take much to fix the current system and restore justice and fairness for all involved.

The Bronx Freedom Fund (BFF) is a perfect example of how a little bit of outside the box thinking can restore real fairness and safeguard the rights of victims, while at the same time-saving taxpayers millions. The BFF is a non-profit charitable organization that provides bail for those too poor to afford it themselves. In the several years since its introduction, it has proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that the bail system as is can be made to work for everyone.

98% of BFF clients make all their court appearances, restoring faith in the system for both the accused and the victims. Fewer defendants feel compelled to plead guilty to win their release and no one who has received assistance from the BFF has wound up back in jail. On top of that, the BFF hasn't lost any money since the bail money they post is returned to them when their client's court proceedings are concluded.

So you see, real bail reform is simpler than the no-bail zealots would have you believe. So the next time outside lobbyists come to Jefferson County, Arapahoe County and Denver County, and try to sell you their no-bail snake oil ask them about the BFF and see how fast they run.

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