Colorado Voted Bail Bond Reform Into Effect

With so many Americans incarcerated and more than 10 million arrested each year it’s no wonder that politicians, desperate to grab hold of an issue they think will resonate with voters, have glummed onto bail reform. The bail system is an easy target for a number of reasons.

  • First, as we mentioned, more than 10 million Americans are arrested every year and most of them will have some experience with having to post bail.
  • Second, its historical roots of bail are not widely understood.
  • Third, its role in securing the presumption of innocence is also not widely understood. And finally, because of reality TV shows the important work of the bail bondsman and bounty hunter has become the subject of ridicule.

In 2013 politicians in Jefferson County, Colorado eliminated the use of cash bail and in doing so, taught the rest of Colorado an important lesson.

The Brave New World of Bail Bonds Reform

In 2013 bail reformers thought they had gained a foothold into Colorado when they persuaded the powers that be to eliminate cash bail in Jefferson County. Their hope was that once everyone could see what a resounding success bail reform was in that county the movement would spread like wildfire to Adams County, Broomfield County, Weld County, Denver and then the entire state.

In the immediate aftermath of bail being eliminated reformers spent lots of time on TV and radio crowing about what a resounding success it was. They assured the residents of Colorado that the benefits being enjoyed by those in Jefferson County would soon be available to everyone statewide. And then reality struck.

The Inconvenient Truth Emerges

All seemed to be going well for bail reformers in Colorado until a report on the status of bail reform in Jefferson County was made public. As it turns out, all was not puppy dogs and sunshine as the reformers had promised. In fact, none of the benefits the reformers had touted actually materialized. And the reality was that the situation in Jefferson County was quickly spiraling out of control. For example:

  • Bail reformers promised smaller jail populations - In fact the number of people being held more than one day in jail increased by more than 140%.
  • Reformers promised fewer people being held over for trial - In fact, the percentage of those arrested being held over for trial increased from 35% to 42%.
  • Reformers promised bail algorithms would prove effective - Bail algorithms were supposed to identify those who could be trusted to show up in court if released without bail. In reality, the algorithm failed miserably with the number of warrants being issued for those who failed to appear increasing by an average of 36%.
  • Reformers promised the county would save money - The enormous increases in the jail population cause by bail reform, along with the cost of having to keep track of those released without bail quickly threatened to overwhelm the county budget.

In light of the reality exposed by the bail reform status report Jefferson County leadership did an abrupt about face and reinstated the age old and effective system of cash bail in the county. Bail reformers had hoped that the residents of Colorado would learn a valuable lesson about the bail system once Jefferson County embraced reform. And they did. The lesson they learned was that bail reform is a politically motivated farce that has produced judicial and fiscal chaos wherever it goes.

Enter the Spin Doctors

Some of those who continue to trumpet bail reform argue that the failure of their cause in this one Colorado county is an anomaly and that the overall record of bail reform is overwhelmingly positive. But is this actually the case? To find out let’s take a look at a sampling of other states were so-called reform has been enacted.

Maryland - Maryland passed bail reform in 2017 in an attempt to alleviate jail overcrowding. The reformers hung their efforts on a shaky interpretation of the constitutionality of bail. Before Maryland taxpayers knew what hit them the Maryland legislature had completely reworked the state’s approach to pretrial release, including doing away with almost all cash bail. The result?

  • The number of people being held over for trial, which was supposed to plummet actually increased by 31%.
  • The cost associated with housing and feeding defendants awaiting trial, which was supposed to also decrease dramatically instead rose by nearly 40%.

Missouri - Missouri also recently fell for the bail reform scam with similarly disastrous results.

  • In the year following the elimination of bail jail populations increased by 4.7%.
  • Those being held over for trial, the core target group of reformers, increased by more than 21%.
  • Racial disparities in the jail population also increased with nearly 19% more African Americans.
  • The cost of housing and caring for all these new inmates rose by more than $2.2 million.
  • New Mexico - In 2017 New Mexico also fell under the spell of the bail reform illusion when they adopted the now widely discredited Arnold Risk Assessment algorithm. The result?

    Crime in the state has skyrocketed and Governor Susana Martinez has characterized the results as “devastating”. She has actively encouraged other states to reject the false narrative of the bail reformers before it’s too late.

    The Bottom Line

    So-called bail reform is a dangerous, politically motivated illusion that has wreaked havoc in states from coast to coast. Colorado citizens would be wise to learn the lesson of Jefferson County and reject further attempts to eliminate bail bonding in the state.