City buses in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota on gloomy day

Well-intentioned people can debate long into the night about whether the recent rioting in cities like Minneapolis was justified or crossed the line into overtly criminal behavior. Certainly, you can find people on both sides of the issue who will make impassioned arguments about the rightness of their beliefs. What seems beyond question, however, is that when Minneapolis authorities responded to the riots by embracing the catch-and-release principles promoted by anti-bail zealots, they only exacerbated an already difficult situation.

The Perfect Storm

Minnesota lawmakers have long resisted calls to do away with their existing bail bonds system, though they have been under immense pressure from lobbyists to do just that. The recent death of George Floyd and the riots that followed significantly upped the pressure on authorities to ‘do something’ about reforming the justice system. The result was a kind of perfect storm of systemic dysfunction that serves as an example of what can happen when bail is abandoned.

Following the death of Floyd, local officials in Minneapolis became wary of appearing to come down too hard on 'protestors'. So instead of drawing a line between protesters and rioters, they set up a revolving door where virtually everyone arrested was released without bail within hours. Keep in mind most of these individuals were not arrested for jaywalking. Most were taken into custody for destruction of property, assaulting police officers, burglary, weapons possession and other serious crimes.

A Staggering Toll

If you think that we are exaggerating the magnitude of official failure in Minneapolis, consider this: a study of arrests during the first week of rioting indicated that 170 people were taken into custody for serious crimes related to the unrest. Of those, 167 were back on the street within hours with no bail requested by the state. That means that only 3 people were being held accountable for rioting that engulfed the city and caused an estimated $500 million in damage. That is not only a staggering toll, but a dark preview of what may lie ahead for states that are contemplating a bail-free future.

Officials Turn a Blind Eye

To a certain extent, one can understand the desire of local officials in Minneapolis not to fan the flames of unrest by incarcerating large numbers of people the media will inevitably portray as social justice warriors. But there is a point beyond which temperance and tolerance must step aside and make way for common sense and justice for the victims of the rioting. That did not happen in Minneapolis. And lots of people were understandably upset about it.

Local officials like Hennepin County Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Lacey Severins took to the airways in an attempt to defend official inaction and wound up lecturing besieged Twin City residents on the vagaries of bail. Indeed, she seemed to be insinuating that the bail bonding system itself was somehow to blame for the release of so many violent offenders when she stated that bail recommendations were made in accordance with state guidelines.

The Curious Case of Jaleel Stallings

A number of people took exception to Ms. Severins’ claim that officials were playing things by the book and cited the example of one Jaleel Stallings. Mr. Stallings was arrested during the unrest in Minneapolis and charged with two counts of attempted 2nd-degree murder and two counts of 1st-degree assault for firing multiple shots at police during the riots. He was also charged with 2nd-degree assault and numerous other crimes. As a result, he was one of only a handful of rioters the state requested bail for.

Now, you would think that attempting to murder police officers would carry with it a significant bail request. And, indeed, the Hennepin County Attorney requested bail of $500,000. However, for some reason that has never been explained, bail was quietly reduced to $75,000 which someone posted for Mr. Stallings in short order. He is now back on the street.

When pressed to justify the release of Mr. Stallings on such a modest bail Ms. Severins got a bit testy and again tried to blame the bail system: “The final bail was set by the court after arguments from the state and the defense”, she said, adding that the court was only following established guidelines. Few people believe that.

Common Sense, Not Punishment

Bail is intended to provide motivation for a person to appear in court to face the charges against them. It is not designed or intended as punishment. As proof of its effectiveness, in state after state where cash bail has been eliminated, court no-show rates have risen dramatically. And in situations like we have all just witnessed in Minneapolis, where the bondsman was effectively removed from the justice system calculus for short-term political reasons, the ensuing chaos has been a disaster for victim’s rights.

Bail is a common-sense method of ensuring accountability that has worked effectively for nearly a thousand years. Is it a perfect system? No. Of course not. But as more and more evidence rolls in regarding what happens when cities like Minneapolis practice catch-and-release non-justice, we are able to more clearly see bail for the vital cog in the criminal justice system that it is.

The Bottom Line

While the situation in Minneapolis is not directly related to bail reform per se, many see what has gone on there as a warning about the consequences of establishing a bail-free society. Whether one lives in the Twin Cities or in Adams County, Broomfield County, Weld County, or Denver Colorado, the lessons are clear: abandoning bail in favor of a catch-and-release, no-one-is-accountable system of ‘justice’ is a recipe for disaster.