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Washington Bail System Rated Above Average But Still Needs Improvement

Neil Conway/Flckr

Criminal justice reform advocates say Washington state has room to improve when it comes to making the bail system more equitable. 

A report card issued by the Pretrial Justice Institute, which pushes for bail reform, gives Washington a "C" grade, which is better than the "D" national average grade.

It’s estimated that 75 percent of the people in jail in Washington haven’t been convicted. They are awaiting trial and haven’t been able to come up with the money for bail.

The state courts are looking at ways to improve the system and to minimize the effect on low-level offenders.

Cherise Fanno Burdeen, with the Pretrial Justice Institute, says one thing the state could do to reduce the number of people remaining in jail by 30 percent would be switching from a secured bond to an unsecured bond for bail. That way, someone would only have to pay if they didn't show up for court.

“As opposed to you asking me to put up what we lovingly refer to as ransom in order to get out of jail pretrial," Burdeen said.

Reform advocates say not being able to make bail disproportionately affects the poor because even spending three days in jail can have a dramatic impact. Someone can lose their job and means of support in that time.

One state that received an "A" for its bail reform efforts was New Jersey, which now requires courts to use money bail only as a last resort. 

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.