FRANKFORT- Should Kentucky change the bail system?
It's something that has been discussed for years in the commonwealth, but judges are wary.
The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on bail reform today, giving judges, jailers, prosecutors and criminal defenders a chance to voice their opinions.
Judges and prosecutors say much of the problem with the judicial system stems from the drug epidemic that is gripping Kentucky.
Those in support of bail reform favor changing or eliminating the cash bond system. They say it keeps poor people in jail, while allowing potentially more dangerous people out simply because they have more money.
Judges were not completely against bail reform, but they aren't sure that doing away with a cash bond system completely is the answer.
"The question I think we need to ask ourselves, is that a healthy system?" asked Judge Patricia M. Summe, 16th Judicial Circuit. "Do we want a system that is just in the government itself? The government decides if it's going to detain you, the government decides if you are being released. You take out family, you take out community, when you take out the other thing that participants in the community can bring to the table, which is money from mom, dad, other family members, to say let's see if I can get them some help."
A major concern of the judges is relying heavily on the risk assessment system as a condition for bond.
"It leaves out certain information. It does not take into consideration certain crimes," said Judge Julie Reinhardt Ward, 17th Judicial Circuit. "In my jurisdiction, most of my murders are low risk, because the risk assessment doesn't care what you are charged with. It's not a consideration."
While arguments for removing cash bonds are because certain judges set high bonds for low level offenses. Prosecutors say that is the exception not the rule.
"I would suggest that we be careful that the legislature is not judging from Frankfort," said Rob Sanders, Commonwealth's Attorney for the 16th Judicial Circuit. "If our problem is in a view individual circuits or districts where there are, for lack of a better term-bad apples, that are keeping in and are not utilizing the tools that they have to let low level defendants out on bail or granting them a bail that they can make, then let's deal with it on the individual district or circuit."
Criminal defenders strongly support changing the cash bond system--in part because hundreds of Kentuckians are sitting in jail simply because they can't afford to bail themselves out.
"A lot of people to who to the public at large are nameless, are faceless, they have families, they have value. They can't get out of jail on much less serious charges, even though the amounts be may set lower they can't get out," said Scott West, Deputy Public Advocate, Department of Public Advocacy.
West goes on to say many of these same people get out of jail only after they plead guilty to their charge.
"What should bail reform look like? Well, I think it should something that nearly eliminates money bail," said West. "I don't think money mail should be used as a means to detain someone."
HB 94, sponsored by Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, deals with bail reform.