What impact does bail reform have?

Pennsylvania has many residents awaiting release on bail. In 2015, the state’s pretrial incarceration rate was the ninth highest in the country. This standing stems from the inability of many defendants to post funds, since they often lack the means to do so. Yet, the bail system has experienced small changes in certain state courts. And two nearby states have adopted laws that reduce the need for cash bail, with varying success.

Changes in nearby states

While Pennsylvania makes it tough for prisoners to get out on bail, New Jersey enacted measures that have virtually eliminated it. In 2017, New Jersey transitioned from a money-based bail system to a risk-based system. The new system considers a defendant’s prior criminal history as the main factor to whether they remain in prison or receive release. Some critics feared that the law would cause a surge in crime. But no such increase has occurred, and the state has seen a 40% drop in pretrial detention.

In January 2020, New York enacted similar changes to law. The law aimed to decrease the pretrial incarceration rates of defendants facing misdemeanor or nonviolent felony charges. But it elicited controversy due to several violent incidents – committed by released offenders – that happened soon after it went into effect. And in April 2020, lawmakers amended it by expanding the number of crimes set to bail and making repeat felony offenders subject to it. These changes take effect in July 2020.

Changes in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has not enacted any recent bail legislation. But the state’s legislature passed two criminal justice reform in 2019. Some state courts are slowly making changes to bail practices, too. Philadelphia’s First Judicial District, for instance, now presumes that defendants will experience pretrial release. This practice helps low-level offenders often avoid bail altogether. The First Judicial District is also giving more weight to financial circumstances before setting bail. And it has allowed nonviolent offenders, with bail set below $100,000, access to early review hearings that can often lead to release. Yet, despite these shifting attitudes, it’s crucial to stay mindful of state regulations until uniform changes happen.