American bail system is broken, says CJI guest speaker Timothy Murray

Timothy Murray, director emeritus of the Pretrial Justice Institute, says the pre-trial detention costs are tremendously high because of a bail system that needs reform.

Timothy Murray, director emeritus of the Pretrial Justice Institute, says the pre-trial detention costs are tremendously high because of a bail system that needs reform.

Oct. 2, 2014 – Pretrial detention costs taxpayers more than $9 billion dollars annually and many of those held in jail before trial pose a low threat to their communities said Timothy Murray, director emeritus of the Pretrial Justice Institute. Murray spoke to law students Tuesday as part of the UHLC Criminal Justice Institute fall lecture series.

“In the United States, two out of every three inmates in America’s jails are not there as punishment for having committed a crime or because they are so unmanageably dangerous, but because they don’t have the money to get out,” said Murray.

Under the current system, bail is determined by a bond schedule. Murray said this typically gives those with financial means an advantage to be released, while disadvantaging the poor.

As a solution, Murray recommends that bail be determined on the basis of risk assessment. Courts would weigh several characteristics of an individual such as criminal history, employment, residence, family, and mental health to make a determination as to whether to keep someone in jail pending trial.

“We all want a justice system that is transparent, blind to class, and easily explainable because it makes sense,” he said.

A few jurisdictions have adopted or are overhauling bail practices to include the use of pretrial assessment tools, including Colorado, Virginia, Kentucky, and Washington, DC. The approach also has the support of the American Bar Association, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Murray encouraged law students as they move forward in their careers to consider their role in helping to make changes in bail policies.

“Accept the responsibility that justice has to be administered fairly,” he concluded.

Click here to watch a video of Timothy Murray talking about "The Myths and Facts of Pretrial Justice."

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