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Kentucky Considers Going to a Cashless Bail System


The chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court says there’s a growing movement across the nation to reform the pre-trial justice system. 

John Minton, Jr. says the current method of setting bail disproportionately affects low-income defendants who aren’t able to pay for release after being charged with low-level, non-violent offenses.

“We don’t need to lose sight of the number one, bedrock principle and that is the presumption of innocence operates in every case, so that presumption does not need to be lost," Minton told WKU Public Radio.

Justice Minton says Kentucky is looking at alternatives to posting bail.  The state is receiving expertise and resources from the Pretrial Justice Institute for new initiative called “3 Days Count.”  The mostly educational campaign will emphasize that only three days in jail is enough time for someone to lose their job.  The initiative will highlight the negative financial and societal impacts of the current bail system. 

Minton says the initiative will also allow the judiciary to examine ways to allow pre-trial release without imposing a cash bail for misdemeanor offenses, and by not compromising public safety.

A report released last fall from the conservative-leaning Pegasus Institute found that there were more than 64,000 non-violent suspects detained in Kentucky in 2016 because they couldn’t afford bail.  Their average length of stay was 109 days. 

"At the same time, we have nearly a thousand cases where violent or sexual offenders were assessed a bond, posted that bond, and got out," explained Josh Crawford, co-executive director of the Louisville-based Pegasus Institute. "In some instances, they went on to commit additional, very heinous crimes, so the pre-trial system stuck out to us as being very upside down."

Crawford also points out that the longer someone is detained, the more likely they are to recidivate.  The Pegasus Institute's report noted that detention periods of 4-7 days yielded a 35% increase in re-offense rates nationally.  Defendants held for 8-14 days were 51% more likely to recidivate than defendants who were detained less than 24 hours.

California recently became the first state in the nation to eliminate cash bail.  Washington, D.C. also has a cashless bail system.

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.
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