As you may recall, the first policy I issued after taking office last November was designed to reduce Chesterfield courts’ reliance on “cash,” or secured bail. This was prompted by concerns in our community that the use of cash bail mistreats lower-income people.
The policy requires that prosecutors oppose any bail for dangerous defendants while agreeing to unsecured bail for defendants who pose no apparent threat. Some critics of this approach predicted that it would undermine public safety. That has not been the case.
Our most reliable measurement of the effects of the bail policy has been in the data collected by Chesterfield’s Community Corrections Services, the agency that provides pre-trial supervision of defendants as ordered by our courts. While CCS doesn’t monitor people who are released without reporting requirements, those who are held without bail, or those unable to post bail, they track the bulky middle of our defendant population. They also compile statistics in the normal course of their work as required by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.
The information gathered by CCS allows us to compare data averages from the eight months before I issued the bail policy with those from the eight months since.
Here’s what the data shows:
A reduction in the use of cash bail from 53 to 37 percent.
An increase in the “public safety rate,” which is the rate at which supervised defendants avoid new criminal charges while pending trial, from 96 to 98 percent.
So, the 16-percent reduction in the use of cash bail is significant, but ideally the judges who set bail will continue this trend such that cash bail becomes a rarity. Our judges receive the same data I’ve reviewed, and I’m hopeful that the steady Public Safety Rate encourages them to further reduce their reliance on cash bail. It illustrates that cash in our bail system hasn’t served as a substitute for risk.
Since the evidence shows that reducing cash bail hasn’t increased recidivism, this is one of the ways that we can make our justice system fairer without compromising public safety.
Scott Miles, Chesterfield Commonwealth’s Attorney
Community Jan 22, 2020