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Everyone knows jails are a huge cost in a community and cost the taxpayers money that could be used elsewhere in the community. Although they are needed, they have been overcrowded for several years, and the high-density populations within jails increase the risk of disease and violence. Here are a few ways your community can help combat the overuse of local jails…

Lowering Bail

Bail is the way to help ensure defendants can return to court — by making realistic bail amounts that are more fitting and affordable, individuals who cannot afford bail will spend unnecessary time in jail awaiting their trial. This can be weeks or months. If cases are backlogged, defendants can spend a long time waiting for their trial. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, for the last 20 years, more than 80% of people in jails are not convicted but awaiting trials. Some states are banning cash bail to help decrease overcrowding in jails. Illinois, New Jersey, and New York banned cash bails for most misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. This helped each state significantly reduce local jail populations.

Providing Counsel At Initial Court Appearances

Many of the individuals in jail awaiting trial do not have the funds to hire their own attorney, and the right for free counsel does not begin until AFTER a defendant’s initial appearance before a judge. That initial appearance is when you seek a lower bond, lower charges, or a release from jail. Andrew Davies, director of the Criminal Justice Reform Center at a law school, stated “One direct benefit of counsel at first appearance is bail decisions by judges tend to change and … be more in favor of liberty than they otherwise would be.” Defendants with initial counsel having a better chance of lower bail, will help reduce the chance they await trial at jail, saving the taxpayers money, and help prevent overcrowding.

Updating Sentence Guidelines

If we can update codes to lead to fewer arrests, we can avoid overbookings in jails. One state raised the threshold for felony on stolen goods from $500 to $1,000. Some states are decriminalizing certain drug charges. Reclassifying certain felonies to be misdemeanors can also help lesson arrests and jail bookings.

Alternative Consequences To Unpaid Fines

Even for a traffic violation, unpaid fines and fees can lead to misdemeanor charges or the suspension of your driver’s license. There are a few states that will allow these charges to escalate to a felony. If people can’t afford to pay fines, taking away their driving privilege, they are not able to work (which increases their difficulty in paying their fines.)

Drug Courts

The Urban Institute found that “drug court participants were less likely to use illegal drugs or commit a crime in the future.” Drug courts and programs save money on less incarceration, and less money being spent on jails. Drug court programs create a positive impact on the community as well as on the lives of individuals in the program. Some drug programs provide counseling, housing, job connections, and many other supportive services that would help the individual make positive changes in their life to prevent future interactions with the courts or jail.

Contact (859-746-0500) Michael O’Hara, PLLC for a Consultation

About Michael A. O’Hara, PLLC

When you have to deal with the justice system – whether related to a civil or criminal matter – you need more than the truth on your side. You need a skilled attorney who can employ sound legal strategies to produce the results you are hoping for. I am attorney Michael A. O’Hara, and I am licensed to practice in Kentucky and Ohio at the state level, as well as in Federal District Court and the Federal Court of Claims. I have been representing clients in the Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati area since 1994.