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American Bail Coalition director: It’s time for system reform

FILE - This June 30, 2020, file photo shows the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

The American bail system has been undergoing reform over the last decade in an effort to eliminate bail for low-level cases — maintaining the statute for criminal cases.

However, mass protests over racial justice temporarily upended those efforts. Jeff Clayton, executive director of the American Bail Coalition, said the system is now threatened with destabilization. 

“The system has been, and still is, stable pre-this movement,” Clayton told Heather Kelly on the Money Making Sense show. “Now it’s being destabilized.”

Bail system reform

Before a protest movement swept across the country — beginning in response to George Floyd’s death by a police officer — Clayton said people like him hoped to reform the bail system to ensure due process. 

“In other words, somebody had a bail set that was considered excessive but they didn’t realize they have to file a motion to have it reduced,” he said. “Or judges just didn’t take it seriously or have any hearings in a timely fashion.”

Despite the efforts underway, Clayton said the “reforms were minimal compared to the functioning of the system. It was holding people accountable.”

Reforming the system meant looking more closely at cases that held people in jail because they can’t post bail — something that disproportionately affects low-income people or those who couldn’t afford a personal attorney. 

Leveling the playing field

Clayton argued the bail system effects apply to everyone. That includes those wrongfully charged or those who don’t know they can request a lower bail. 

However, he said authorities don’t collect data on the demographics — like race or class — of those who don’t get their bail reduced. He said banking information, flight risk, prior crimes, severity of charges and other factors more frequently influence those decisions. 

Without this data, Clayton said it helps make sure the bail system is “applied across the board.”

“Which just points out,” he said, “we need due process so people can exercise their rights in all cases.”

Hear the full interview with Jeff Clayton and KSL NewsRadio’s Heather Kelly here: 

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