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Washington Courts To Look At Bail Reform For Accused Who Can't Afford To Pay

Neil Conway
/
Flickr

It’s estimated that up to 75 percent of people in jail in Washington haven’t been convicted of a crime. They’re waiting for trial and can’t afford the bail set by the judge. There’s a national movement to change the system. Now judges in Washington state are joining efforts to look at the problem.The American Civil Liberties Union is one of the groups that’s been pushing for so called pre-trial reform. The ACLU’s Jaime Hawk says when someone accused of a low-level offense qualifies to be out on bail pending trial but remains locked up instead the consequences are huge. They can lose their job.

“They can lose their housing, custody of their kids, their medication is disrupted. People’s lives are turned upside down,” said Hawk.

She says the people of color and people who are poor are disproportionately affected by the current system of bail. In September, ACLU-WA issued "No Money, No Freedom: The Need for Bail Reform in Washington" highlighting the problem.

The Washington Courts agrees bail reform is something that needs to be considered. At the urging of Superior Court judges in Washington and the Supreme Court’s Minority and Justice Commission, a task force has been created made up of judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and bail business owners.

According to a press release from Washington Courts, the pretrial reform task force will spend the next year and a half collecting data and evaluating ways to minimize the impact of pretrial detention on low-risk offenders.

"Every day across Washington state, trial judges make decisions regarding pretrial release or detention that have consequences for our communities and for people accused of crimes," said Judge Sean P. O'Donnell, president of the Superior Court Judges' Association.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.