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Pilot Program Studies Need for Bail Reform

Nine Indiana counties are participating in a pilot program to reduce or eliminate bail for people who aren't considered a flight or safety risk. (
Nine Indiana counties are participating in a pilot program to reduce or eliminate bail for people who aren't considered a flight or safety risk. (
September 26, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS – While advocates are calling for reforms in the criminal justice system across the nation, Indiana is taking some steps in that direction.

The Indiana Supreme Court recently approved reforms to the state's bail system, including the prompt release of those arrested that don't pose a public safety risk.

Allen Superior Court Judge John Surbeck is part of the Committee to Study Evidence-Based Pretrial Release, formed in 2013. He concedes that a more a liberal policy of pretrial release runs counter to the practice in the U.S. court system of requiring money before releasing someone, but he says any change would protect the presumption of innocence.

"People in jail under arrest are innocent, and yet we are forcing them to pay sometimes lots of money to get out of jail when they are innocent," he points out.

Surbeck says the committee found if an arrestee doesn't pose a substantial flight risk or danger to the community, that person should be released without bail.

There are exceptions, such as murder or treason charges, or if the arrestee is on probation.

Indiana currently has nine counties participating in a pilot project to eliminate bail for some people.

Surbeck says other states including Kentucky, Washington, Virginia and Colorado already have made reforms in the bail system and it's working for them.

"There have been findings in several federal courts across the country that setting bonds strictly based upon a charge is a violation of due process, if you don't consider the individual's likelihood to appear and unlikelihood, if you will, to commit another crime," Surbeck explains.

People held for two or three days before they posted bail were 40 percent more likely to commit a crime, and those held for a month or more were 74 percent more likely to recidivate, according to a 2013 study by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

In addition, the report found individuals detained before trial were three times more likely to be sentenced to prison, and twice as likely to receive a longer prison term.

The reforms the court adopted are based on recommendations from defense counsel, probation officers, lawmakers and trial court judges.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IN