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Bailing on Baltimore: Voices From the Front Lines of the Justice System

NCJ Number
Jean Chung
Date Published
September 2012
34 pages
This report presents the experiences and perspectives of people who have been affected by the Baltimore City bail system (Maryland), and it proposes policy reforms that are needed and relevant to Baltimore's bail system.
Based on the recommendations of those who participated in this study of the Baltimore bail system (advocates, attorneys, judicial officials, pretrial service providers, and residents of Baltimore City), three themes emerged: the use of evidence-based risk assessments prior to pretrial decisionmaking regarding custody or release, the release of more individuals on their own recognizance, and the provision of legal counsel to every person at his/her first bail hearing. The use of evidence-based risk assessment is a reliable means of determining who is of sufficient risk to require custody in order to ensure a court appearance and prevent reoffending; and low-risk offenders will be released on personal recognizance. This will increase the cost-effectiveness of pretrial decisionmaking. The risk assessment will also determine the level of supervision and monitoring that may be required for persons on pretrial release. All arrestees should have the advice and advocacy of legal counsel at bail hearings, since the decision being made has the potential for an arrestee's incarceration or restricted freedom in the community. The current Baltimore pretrial bail system tends to involve decisionmaking that is arbitrary rather than evidence-based; to base pretrial release on a defendant's ability to pay bail rather than on risks for public safety and failure to appear for court processing; and to deny the legal rights of individuals who are legally innocent prior to court processing.