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Bail reform seeks fairness

State statute change may present challenges

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A new state rule eliminating cash bail for less serious crimes is working so far in Montgomery County, but won’t ease the jail population that is nearing full capacity, Sheriff Ryan Needham said.

This year, Indiana became part of a growing list of states and cities doing away with the bail system for low-risk offenders, who often don’t have the cash to be released before their trial.

People arrested for misdemeanors and the lowest-level felony are now booked and released from jail with a promise to appear in court, unless a judge determines they present a substantial flight risk or a danger to themselves or others.

Offenders already on probation, parole or community supervision will also be held. If an offender is re-arrested following their release, they will remain in custody without bail.

Bail reform advocates say it is not fair for people who cannot afford to post bail to sit in jail until their case is resolved. Needham believes the rule was also implemented to ease overcrowding in county jails.

The jail had 190 inmates as of Tuesday. Full capacity is 224.

“I think this is going to have an adverse effect on our population in a few months,” Needham told the Crawfordsville Human Rights Commission during a wide-ranging question-and-answer session with public safety officials.

“Once we get several people on pre-trial release, more than likely they’re going to re-offend and then they’re going to be rearrested and then they’re going to be stuck in jail with no bond.”

The change has no impact on the jail’s budget. Bail money goes to the court system, helping fund court costs, probation, restitution and other fees.

Local coordinating councils such as Drug Free Montgomery County are also supported by the bail system. Drug Free awards mini-grants to agencies fighting the drug epidemic.

Funding for this year’s grants was collected in 2019, so there will be no immediate impact on the grants, said Karen Branch, executive director of the Montgomery County Youth Service Bureau, which administers the program.

“I think it remains to be seen how large the impact will be for everybody until we get through a year of this,” Branch said.

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