In large letters, a June 12 headline in The Daily Record asked, “Is this bail reform?” The article quoted several defense lawyers – favorable to bail bondsmen – and compiled some statistics to that the number of defendants denied bail increased substantially in some Maryland jurisdictions in the past six months.
But statewide pretrial detention statistics tell a different story: Since District Court Chief Judge John P. Morrissey’s October 2016 letter urging district judges to better apply constitutional standards to Maryland bail reviews, the total number of defendants in pretrial detention increased by only two percent between September 2016 and April 2017, even though use of bail dropped nearly 12 percent.
With either statistics sample, the question – “Is this bail reform?” – should have a similar answer: “Not yet.”
The Maryland Court of Appeals’ February 2017 Rule revisions on bail actually do not take effect until July 1. Even then, two key ingredients called for by the rule’s bail reform were blocked in the General Assembly by bail bondsmen’s well-paid legislative leaders: risk assessment is offered only in five of 24 Maryland jurisdictions; and programs to offer supervised pretrial release are offered only in about half of the state’s jurisdictions.
By comparison, the Pittsburgh area – with population twice that of Baltimore city – adopted screening and pretrial supervision several years ago. In the first 30 days, pretrial detention there was cut by 30 percent.
A few Maryland jurisdictions already have shown the way towards effective pretrial programs – such as Anne Arundel, Carroll, Montgomery and St. Mary’s counties. If Governor’s Office of Crime
Control and Prevention and our state’s new Justice Reinvestment Oversight Board will support effective pretrial screening and supervision, other Maryland jurisdictions also can look forward to substantial reductions in their pretrial detention populations.
The writer is a retired Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge and a member of the Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform’s executive board.