Data suggests where you live in Kentucky could affect how long you stay in jail if you can't afford cash bail

Published: Jun. 15, 2019 at 7:15 AM EDT
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New research from the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy shows where you live could play a role in how long you stay in jail pretrial if you can't afford cash bail.

Data from district and circuit court cases in 2018 shows inconsistencies across the state and now officials with the KCEP have questions.

First, why are the numbers of people who remain in jail because they can't afford cash bail so high?

Second, why is there a wide variation, county by county, in people released from jail for non-financial reasons?

"In the case of McCracken County that's the lowest rate of release on non-financial conditions. It's just 5 percent of cases, but in Martin County, that's the highest rate of release on non-financial conditions at 68 percent," said Ashley Spalding, Senior Policy Analyst for the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

To better answer these questions, it is important to understand the options an arrested individual has in order to be released from jail before trial.

Immediately after an arrest a background check and risk assessment is performed.

Those findings must be presented to a judge within 24 hours, who then determines if the individual gets non-financial or financial terms of release.

"Well, if the court sets a financial condition, meaning a cash bond or a percentage of a cash bond, then the defendant would be held in jail until they make that bond, of course. Or unless their defense attorney files a motion for a bond review and requests a hearing or until their next court date when their bond is reviewed again," said Tara Blair, Executive officer for Pretrial Services.

In the case of financial bonds, nearly 60 percent of cases in Kentucky are subject to cash bail while defendants await trial. However, of those cases just 39% resulted in pretrial release.

"And there's really wild variation there, too. While in Hopkins County 99 percent of cases where there is money bail they're able to be released, they're able to afford bail, but in Wolfe County, it's just 17 percent of cases," said Spalding.

When it comes to non-financial bonds data shows just 40 percent of criminal district and circuit court cases in Kentucky resulted in release pretrial.

In Warren County, 44 percent of cases received non-financial bonds, while next door in Logan County that number drops to 21 percent.

Officials say remaining in jail pretrial could cause an individual to lose their job and hurt their families, but could also negatively impact their case.

"People who are incarcerated pretrial are more likely to be found guilty and they are more likely to plead guilty, even when they are innocent," said Spalding.

Officials say the issue of not being able to afford cash bail could lead to problems in the county jails, including overcrowding.

Now officials with the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy are calling on legislators for change.

"What we have is currently, it's bad for families, it's bad for individuals, and it's bad for the state as a whole," said Spalding.

Changes in the pretrial system would reduce the number of cases that result in cash bail.