One of the biggest complaints I hear is that people who are arrested get right back out of jail.
Most of us have never been in jail. Most of us have never been charged with any kind of criminal offense. But we all remember the phrase, “Innocent until proven guilty.”
That’s still the law.
It’s a big job
Most of us also don’t like to pay taxes. Last year Clinton Countians paid $1,689,541.33 to operate our jail. That’s $3.21 every minute of every day, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It never closes. It never has a holiday. That’s a lot of money.
Our sheriff does a great job of providing a secure jail where people are kept safely. Our jail consistently receives excellent ratings from the state for doing things right.
It’s a big job. Last year our jail booked 2,276 people who stayed, on average, a little over 12 days each. They ate 80,664 meals. It cost about $62.82 per day to keep them there.
Many of those people have never been found guilty of anything. They are there because they were accused, and they could not post bail.
The Ohio Constitution requires that “All persons shall be bailable by sufficient sureties” except in rare circumstances. That means almost every person accused of an offense must be allowed to post some kind of bail and be released from jail.
When a person is arrested for most offenses, that person has the option of paying a cash bail in order to be released almost immediately. That is called a “cash bond.” Depending on the amount, that can cost more than many people have.
Bail bond agents are licensed by the state to write a “Bail Bond,” which is a kind of an insurance policy — when you pay a bail bond agent a fee, that agent will give the court a bond instead of cash, and the person can be released. This is called a “Surety Bond.”
If the person does not show up for court, the person’s bond is revoked and the agent has to pay that amount to the court. If the bail bond agent is able to find the person and bring them to court (or to jail), the agent can get that money back.
The law requires that people accused of a few offenses cannot be released on bail until they see a judge. Domestic violence is that kind of offense. If you are charged with domestic violence, you will be held in jail until a judge decides your bail.
Lots of people (more than you would think) don’t have any way to pay a bail bond agent. They don’t have any friends or relatives who can pay, either.
Being broke is not a crime. Those people are presumed innocent, too. We try to give every person a bail hearing as quickly as possible. Most of the time that happens within 24 hours.
If they are arrested on a weekend, the hearing happens Monday morning. On holiday weekends, I usually come in once or twice to see if anyone was arrested and couldn’t post bail. When that happens, I set bail and give them a court date.
The Ohio Revised Code requires that, when the judge believes that the accused will come to court, that person may be released on his “own recognizance.” That means a person can be released without paying a bail. If they do not show up, that “recognizance bond” gets revoked and that person has to stay in jail until trial.
Also, if a person does not come to court, he or she can be charged with a new crime called “Failure to Appear.” In misdemeanor cases, you can go to jail for up to six months for failure to appear, even if you were found not guilty of the original accusation.
In felony cases, you can go to prison for up to 18 months. It’s a big deal.
The Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission has been working hard for years to find a way to spend less money on holding people in jail. In 2016, a committee appointed by that Commission began examining ways to spend less money holding people in jail who have not been tried and who are therefore presumed innocent.
The General Assembly is considering new laws that will create improved ways for courts to decide who stays in jail and who is released.
3 key factors
The Commission recently published a long, detailed report. Essentially, they told us that three things should be really important for judges to consider:
1. Our number one job is to protect the public from crime. If we believe that a person in jail will harm the public, we must keep them in jail or create conditions to protect the public when releasing them.
Sometimes we protect with bail conditions like “no contact” with alleged victims. Sometimes we protect by making them report to a pretrial supervisor (a probation officer). Sometimes we protect by making them wear a tracking bracelet on their ankle.
I always order people not to use any alcohol or drugs, and I always order them not to commit any new offenses.
Most people obey those restrictions and show up for court. If they don’t, or they get charged with new offenses, I usually revoke their bail and hold them in jail until trial.
2. We must make sure people come to court. The whole point of bail is to secure court attendance. The system doesn’t work if they don’t show up.
If a person I released on a recognizance bond doesn’t come to court, I issue a warrant. I usually make them post a cash or surety bond to get out of jail next time. If they still don’t show up, I usually revoke bond and just hold them in jail until their case is over.
3. We must maximize release rates. That’s right — the third goal is to get as many people as possible out of jail.
First, we must always remember that they are innocent unless proven guilty. Second, it just costs too much to lock people up. So if it is probably safe to release them, and if they will probably come to court, I have to let them out of jail until their trial.
Remember — these rules apply to people who are presumed innocent.
In another article, we will look at criminal sentencing. There are reasons why some people must lose their liberty for a time.
However, unless a person is proven guilty, his liberty is protected by the Constitution.
Mike Daugherty is Judge of the Clinton County Municipal Court.