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Report: In KY, Staying in Jail May Depend on Where You Live

New research suggests that Kentucky's cash bail policies in some counties contribute to jail overcrowding and strain county budgets. (Adobe Stock)
New research suggests that Kentucky's cash bail policies in some counties contribute to jail overcrowding and strain county budgets. (Adobe Stock)
June 24, 2019

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Where you live in Kentucky might determine whether you stay in jail before trial because you can't afford the cash bail, according to a new report from the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

Researchers found the number of people released from jail before their trial without monetary conditions differs drastically depending on the county – from just 5% in McCracken County to 68% in Martin County.

Ashley Spalding, a senior policy analyst with the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, says the penalties for being arrested in one county could be substantially greater than an arrest for the same offense across county lines.

"And this is really important because people who are not released pre-trial – who await trial while they're incarcerated – are more likely to be found guilty, have harsher sentences, and even plead guilty in order to get out of jail," she stresses.

Nearly 60% of criminal court cases in Kentucky are subject to cash bail, according to the report.

To contrast, Spalding points out that in Washington, D.C., more than 90% of defendants are released pre-trial without financial conditions.

The report suggests that judges too often override or don't seem to take into account the findings of Kentucky's pretrial risk assessment tool, and it says if they did, 90% of people would be released before trial without setting bail.

The report recommends the pretrial release system be reformed statewide, especially when it comes to requiring bail payment as a condition of release.

However, Spalding doesn't think that will be easy.

"Not everyone's on the same page about bail reform,” she states. “There are people within the system who want to see this change. So, we're hoping that we can all get on the same page in the 2020 legislative session."

Previous research showed that people with low incomes and people of color bear the brunt of consequences if they can't afford to pay cash bail amounts – including job loss, health problems, and negative effects on children and family members.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY