Bail reform siren song

On June 18, there was a letter praising bail reform for the potential cost savings. One should not fall for that siren song. First, bail is not about saving money, it is about safety of the defendant and the public and assuring the appearance of defendants. The costs shown for housing inmates is not what would be saved by releasing them. It costs around $20 a day to feed and care for an inmate. The majority of the expenses are fixed costs that would be spread onto the remaining inmates.

Bail reform relies upon widespread pretrial supervision services. That will not be cheap. Washington, D.C., spends more than $63 million a year with 365 full-time equivalent employees. New Jersey hired 272 employees and 20 more superior court judges. A recent independent study from George Mason University of Kentucky’s bail revision has shown an increase in crimes and failure to appear. Both are costs for victims, the criminal justice system and society. All the discussion on this has been focused on defendants, with no objective discussion of the impact on victims and society. The are no statewide baseline studies of New Hampshire pre-trial incarceration. Many of the concepts discussed such as 3 Days Count are based upon social experiments in other states that have not been objectively validated. Given serious crimes committed by those on bail under reforms in other states, including killing a deputy in Maine and a domestic violence victim killed in New Jersey, we ought to take a slow and deliberate look at criminal justice reform.

The Vera Institute of Justice has found New Hampshire has one of the five lowest incarceration rates. We have consistently been one of the safest states in the country. Maybe we shouldn’t blindly follow other states and they should be looking at us.