The federal Justice Department has agreed to help study and pay for the Nevada Supreme Court’s bail reform project.
Nevada Supreme Court Justice Jim Hardesty, who convinced the high court to change the existing pre-trial release system in Nevada, said federal experts will help develop an “evidence based, pre-trial release” instrument to help judges around the state decide who should be released from jail.
“Up to this point, Nevada’s approach to pre-trial releases has been a bail-driven approach,” Hardesty said.
Hardesty said he wants to completely revamp the pre-trial release system in Nevada.
“Other jurisdictions that have looked at this have raised concerns that it sets up a different system for people who have the means to make bail and poor people who don’t,” he said. “There have been some recent federal district court cases where the courts have said the release of defendants based on financial circumstances is unconstitutional.”
Hardesty said there’s a growing trend to replace bail systems with “a validated evidence based risk assessment tool” to guide the judge in deciding who gets out before trial.
“The only legal question that affects those individuals is whether they will appear or fail to appear and whether they present a risk to the community,” he said.
He said what studies in other states have found is the failure to appear rate is minimal.
He said the new system wouldn’t take the decision away from judges but, instead, give the judge the necessary information about a defendant to determine whether that person can and should be let out of jail without having to post bail.
Another advantage, Hardesty said, is it gives authorities a better handle on a defendant who’s released because they can use alternative ways of supervision such as GPS tracking ankle bracelets or house arrest.
“It not only reduces the cost to taxpayers caused by excessive jail time, it improves safety by tracking the defendant once he’s out,” Hardesty said.
“Under the current system, all they have to do is make bail and they’re out of there, no tracking of them, no supervision of them. They just make bail and they’re gone.”
He said in contrast, a person arrested on a simple DUI or such things as passing a bad check who doesn’t have cash sits in jail. “They lose their job, lose their apartment.” Then, he said, they are more likely to become a bigger problem and cost on society.
Hardesty said Justice Department officials will appear before the study committee today to lay out a pilot program in Washoe and Clark counties using a risk assessment tool. They will advise the panel on what types of questions should be included in a Nevada Specific Risk Assessment and what kind of research should go into a case before the judge decides on whether to release someone.
He said the goal is to make that decision in the first 48 hours a defendant is in the jail.
The Justice Department presentation follows testimony by the National Corrections Institute in December on the same issues.
He said Justice officials will provide the resources on selecting and validating a Nevada specific tool “all at the Department of Justice’s cost.”
He said he’s hoping to start the pilot program in Washoe and Clark county courts March 1, run it for 60 days, then compare the statistics with those from before the new system has been put in place.
“I think we’ll learn a lot in the next 60 days,” Hardesty said. “It’s a unique opportunity for Nevada to advance the entire process of pre-trial releases.”
He said he also plans to ask the study committee to appoint a subcommittee to review bail bond schedules throughout Nevada. He said they vary between jurisdictions and vary within crimes between the different judicial jurisdictions.
He said that doesn’t mean bail and bail bond business will go away: “I have no doubt the criminal justice system will continue to rely on some form of bail system going forward.”
But studies have shown the majority of criminal defendants can be safely released without paying to get out and still show up for their court appearances.
“Inconsistent bail amounts and inconsistent release decisions is something this process is intended to correct,” he said.