LANSING — Today, state Reps. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids) and Tommy Brann (R-Wyoming) along with state Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) held a press conference to announce the introduction of a legislative package to reform Michigan’s broken cash bail system. The legislation would make much needed reforms to ensure those housed pre-trial are kept only when they pose a danger to society or are a flight risk, not due to lack of funds to pay for their own release.
“The current system disproportionally burdens those with lower incomes, often reinforcing poverty cycles with deep consequences for even minor infractions,” said Rep. LaGrand. “Whether or not you are released pre-trial is, for the most part, solely dependent on how much money you have, at a point in the criminal justice process when everyone is still meant to be considered — legally — innocent until proven guilty. If someone is an obvious danger our 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’ rights.”
According to a 2015 Department of Justice report, roughly 41 percent of jail inmates in Michigan were awaiting trial with an average cost of $75 a day per person to house them. It can cost approximately $500,000 a day, and more than $180 million a year to keep citizens locked up because they can't afford to post bail. Not only is this a waste of taxpayer dollars, but it often creates undue financial hardship for those who were already struggling.
“No one should be sitting in jail awaiting trial because they could not afford to pay bail,” Irwin said. “Our founders built our justice system on one guiding principle – innocent until proven guilty. Our communities have suffered long enough under this broken system. Citizens should be afforded equal rights and not have their fundamental rights metered by the thickness of their wallet or the number of zeros in their bank account.”
The package consists of ten bills and one resolution to address the many components of the bail system. Rep. LaGrand’s bill would make pretrial release the standard and require judges to take a person’s ability to pay into account when setting bail. Other bills in the package prevent judges from setting bail outside of a defendants ability to pay and requires that defendants have access to financial disclosure forms. The package also creates a system of accountability by requiring courts to submit a regular report to the State Court Administrative Office to track bail cases, and will encouraging local governments to monitor and repurpose a portion of their savings toward community policing.
“Pulling someone off the job and putting them in jail creates a vicious cycle,” Brann said. “Sitting in jail does not help them pay their debts.”
Also joining the legislators was Nate Willink, a construction company owner, who recently assisted an employee who was stuck in jail because he could not afford his bond.
“When I employ a young person, I consider it a part of my work to help them develop discipline as well as their trade skills. Sometimes a young person makes a miscalculation. When they end up in jail for days for minor offenses because they can’t post bond, they lose wages – sometimes their jobs. When they lose wages, they can’t support their kids or they fall behind on their child support,” Willink said. “My business falls behind in its work when my employees can’t show up. So you can see the community as a whole is harmed when we hold low-risk people in jail before their trial for no reason other than their ability to pay. Reforming the cash bail system would help people stay employed while they wait for their court date so they can keep themselves on track and take care of their kids.”