MARYLAND’S BAIL REFORM IS FAILING IN PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY. WHY?
The study finds "while the use of cash-bail has decreased, judges have largely replaced it with 'no bail' holds rather than releasing people on their own recognizance..." and concludes “Keeping people out of jail and in the community where they can work, learn, and be with loved ones is good for public safety, these individuals and their community as well as the overall health of Prince George’s County.
/PM BlogSpace Report/ In 2017, Maryland followed numerous other states and implemented a new court rule that requires judges to use cash bail as a last resort and instead, consider non-financial conditions of release. A study by Progressive Maryland and Color of Change finds, however, that while the use of cash-bail has decreased, judges have largely replaced it with “no bail” holds rather than releasing people on their own recognizance.
The study’s findings were based on Progressive Maryland’s Court Watch program, a volunteer- led effort where Prince George’s residents observed cases for racial, age and other important demographic factors.
The study therefore finds, due to the substitution of no-bail holds, little change in the level or composition of the county’s incarcerated population.
As the study states, “Keeping people out of jail and in the community where they can work, learn, and be with loved ones is good for public safety, these individuals and their community as well as the overall health of Prince George’s County. State’s Attorneys, judges, and other actors cannot sit back. They must push for reform. Following these simple suggestions will go a long way to making our community safe and just.
In the recent primary election, Aisha Braveboy won the Democratic nomination for Prince George's County State's Attorney and the current State's Attorney, Angela Alsobrooks, was chosen Democratic candidate for the County Executive, the highest ranking office in Prince George's County. In Prince George’s, Democratic nominations have historically led to victory in general elections.
The State's Attorney is the most powerful position in the criminal justice system and, historically, a launching pad for higher office. Alsobrooks has six months left in her current position as the county prosecutor to push political leadership to address the current jail crisis in Prince George's County; Braveboy is likely to succeed her and should address that issue as a priority. It is in the courtroom, with State’s Attorney prosecutors present, that bail reform is failing, case by case.
Color Of Change and Progressive Maryland have released their new report revealing an alarming trend in Prince George's County. It has been a year since the Maryland Court of Appeals landmark decision that ruled cash bail as unconstitutional, but real bail reform has yet to be implemented— causing the jail population in Prince George’s County to remain over 80 percent Black. The monumental court decision instructed judges to use cash bail as an absolute last resort and to consider non-financial alternatives to pre-trial detention.
However, since the ruling, commissioners, judges, and prosecutors have circumvented this decision by holding defendants in custody without even the possibility of posting bail. The practice of holding people without bail counters the original intent of Maryland’s higher court’s decision and community demands to decrease incarceration
The Prince George's County: A Study on Bail report is another step in our ongoing effort to lower incarceration rates. Over the last year, hundreds of Color Of Change members have organized and attended a series of events intended to build a local movement for bail reform. We started with a mass organizing meeting last year and, most recently, we hosted a Happy Hour for Justice State's Attorney candidate forum.
Now that the politics are behind us, it is time to get to the business of changing the system.
We must be proactive and demand both the incoming and current State's Attorney make critical interventions to ensure Black people are not locked behind bars.
Black people lose so much when they are forced to wait in jail until their court date. We have seen numerous examples of Black people falling into debt, losing their jobs, families being ripped, and the deep emotional and mental toll incarceration creates. Serving time before being charged with a crime is inhumane and unconstitutional.
In response to our troubling findings on bail, we have outlined five key steps for the State's Attorney’s Office to take on bail reform:
- Release for all defendants with misdemeanors and drug offenses
- Restrict the use of “no bail” in Prince George’s County as a substitute for cash-bail
- Consider easy pretrial services that can aid those with failures to appear in court
- Advocate to increase the time for the defendant and the defense attorney meet before the hearing
- Move to end to cash bail and release most defendants back into the community
This year is a critical political moment for Black people in Prince George's County. We must show the State's Attorney, current and future, we are engaged around bail reform and will hold all elected officials accountable on this important issue.