LANSING, Mich. — Legislative reform packages are introduced each week in Lansing and cash bail reform has been added to the list of criminal justice reform ideas for law makers to debate.
A ten-bill package was introduced Wednesday in an attempt to “reform Michigan’s broken cash bail system.” The proposed legislation would make it easier for people who do not pose a flight risk or a danger to society are able to leave jail after getting arrested.
“The current system disproportionately burdens those with lower incomes, often reinforcing poverty cycles with deep consequences for even minor infractions,” said Democratic Rep. David LaGrand of Grand Rapids.
LaGrand sponsored a bill in the package that would allow someone to make a pretrial release on a personal recognizance bond, rather than a cash bond. He said it would be up to a judge to set a cash bond based on the defendant’s financial records if one was deemed necessary.
“If someone is an obvious danger out package provides clear space for judicial discretion, but ultimately our plan will reform the bail system in a way that provides equal justice to everyone – regardless of their financial status without sacrificing public safety or victims’ right,” LaGrand added.
Attorney General Dana Nessel joined the legislators Wednesday and said she supports the plan. Nessel said the legislation is a step forward in criminal justice reform and allows people to go home at the beginning of their criminal justice journey when they otherwise might not have the opportunity.
Data from a 2015 Department of Justice report said roughly 41 percent of inmates in Michigan were awaiting trial with an average cost of $75 per day per person to house them.
“The kinds of reforms that have been suggested and that are involved in this package I think are going to be incredible important and go a long way towards our communities safer but also saving us a lot of money,” Nessel explained. “It’s really a win, win.”
Republican Rep. Tommy Brann of Wyoming said he has seen first had the impacts of getting held in jail can have one a person’s life. Brann, a restaurant owner, said he had employees who missed work because they had been arrested and couldn’t post their bail because they couldn’t work.
“Pulling someone off the job and putting them in jail creates a vicious cycle,” he said. “Sitting in jail does not help them pay their debts.”
LaGrand said the Michigan Senate is expected to introduce similar legislation soon. Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, said not being able to pay the bail is not a reason someone should spend time in jail.
“Citizens should be afforded equal rights and not have their fundamental rights metered by their thickness of their wallet or the number of zeros in their bank account,” Irwin said.
The bills have been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for further discussion.
“I think all of us in America ought to believe that you’re innocent until you’re proven guilty,” LaGrand said. “Even a day or two is more than enough time to have your life to fall apart if you don’t have reserves.”
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