Topic of bail reform in Indiana garners opinions from all sides

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("Prison Bars Jail Cell" by Jobs For Felons Hub, CC BY 2.0)

Some Indianapolis state senators’ attempt to fight crime through bail reform has opponents arguing they’re aiming at the wrong target.

The five Republicans who represent parts of Indianapolis in the Senate have introduced a package of five bills aimed at bringing Indy’s record murder rates under control. But the bills authored by Senators Michael Young and Aaron Freeman were the main focus of a sometimes heated four-hour committee hearing.

Young’s bill would set a minimum $20,000 bail for violent crimes, unless counties have crafted their own bail schedules, and would require bail to be paid by cash, not bonds. Freeman’s bill would set a similar cash bail requirement for bail charities like The Bail Project, and would ban them from posting bail for felonies. That bill would also prohibit state or local governments from funding bail. The Marion Superior Court cut off a grant for The Bail Project last month, saying the group needs to deliver a list of who it’s bailed out and how many of them committed new crimes while out on bond.

Freeman reeled off a list of 10 defendants released on bail who went on to be charged with murder or other violent crimes. One of those defendants, Travis Lang, posted bond on a burglary charge last January with help from The Bail Project, and is now charged with the murder of 24-year-old Dylan McGinnis in Indianapolis nine months later.

McGinnis’s mother, Nikki Sterling, told senators the goal of aiding people jailed on minor charges who can’t afford bail is a noble one, but says in freeing those charged with violent crimes, groups like The Bail Project are hurting the communities they’re trying to help.

But opponents, including senators from both parties, argue both bills would create a system where the constitutionally guaranteed right to bail would be available only to the well-off. Bail bondsmen argue the cash bail requirement is misguided, because bondsmen have arrest powers to bring back defendants who don’t show up for court. And American Bail Coalition executive director Jeff Clayton says while his group supports the principle of setting higher bonds for violent crimes, it’s a mistake to link bail strictly to the charge a prosecutor decides to file. He says the biggest factor by far should be a defendant’s criminal history.

Indianapolis Senator Greg Taylor (D) argues the bills don’t address the problem they’re trying to solve. He says of 80 suspects now awaiting trial for murder in Marion County, two-thirds of them have priors not for violent crimes, but nonviolent ones, which Young’s bill doesn’t address. And he says of nearly a thousand defendants who got help from The Bail Project over the last three years, 95-percent met the conditions of their release.

Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police president Rick Snyder responds the Bail Project figures don’t include the last two years — that’s the data the courts say the group has failed to deliver. And Snyder says while offenders out on bail may represent only a small portion of Indy’s record murder totals, they’re cases which cause extra pain to families because the court system could have prevented them.

Lagrange Senator Susan Glick (R), a former prosecutor, argues there’s a more fundamental problem with the bail proposals. She says the issue isn’t who posts bail, but how much it is. That’s determined by judges, and Glick says Young’s bill to set a floor for bail would deprive judges of the discretion to set bail by analyzing the facts of individual cases. And she notes just because someone’s been charged doesn’t mean they’re guilty.

Freeman is a co-sponsor of Young’s bill, along with Indianapolis Senator Jack Sandlin. Indianapolis Senator Kyle Walker and Greenfield Senator Mike Crider are co-sponsors of Freeman’s bill. Each of the five senators is the lead author for one of the five bills in the package.

The other three bills would create a half-million-dollar crime-reduction grant fund for Marion County police agencies, encourage cooperation among 16 police and security agencies in the county, and set requirements to ensure defendants released with electronic monitoring are actually monitored. Those bills sparked little opposition or discussion.

The committee plans to vote on the bills next week.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t want judges to have latitude when setting bail. You don’t have to look very far (Waukesha massacre) to see where bail was set really low for someone because they are a member of one of the Democrat’s “protected groups” and that person went on to do horrific things. The crime, not the characteristics of the criminal, should determine the bail amount.

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