Pretrial Assessment Emerging as Leading Approach to Bail Reform

Senator Brian Frosh & Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger, Courtesy of Maryland Manual
Senator Brian Frosh & Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger, Courtesy of Maryland State Archives

As the General Assembly continues to grapple with the need to either fund or alter the bail process, the concept apparently gaining most ground is that of using a pre-arraignment assessment tool as a major vehicle to streamline and improve these early functions.  A recent bill hearing, and a presentation before MACo’s Legislative Committee, have reinforced the development of this still-developing proposal.

The hearing  was held Wednesday on SB 973. As previously reported on Conduit Streetthis bill sponsored by Senator Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) offers a plan for pretrial services including a pre-arraignment assessment tool. The hearing was well attended and many stakeholders testified including Tammy Brown, Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention (GOCCP); Cherise Fanno Burdeen, Chief Operating Officer of the Pretrial Justice Institute;  Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger; and Public Defender Paul B. DeWolfe, Jr. More coverage on the bill hearing could be found in the Baltimore Sun.

On a panel with the local wardens and correctional directors, MACo testified as to key principles that need to be adhered to when it comes to bail reform. Most importantly these included (1) secure and adequate funding for county pre-trial services, and (2) seven day availability of district court judges to prevent unnecessary overnight stays in local correctional facilities or delays in processing.  The panel included:

  • Michael Merican, Warden, St. Mary’s County Detention Center
  • Dan Lasher, Director of Operations, Allegany County Sheriff’s Office Detention Center
  • Douglas Devenyns, Warden, Talbot County Department of Corrections
  • Mary Lou McDonough, Director, Prince George’s County Department of Corrections
  • Arthur Wallenstein, Director, Montgomery County Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation

The panel spoke passionately of the issues facing local correction facilities as a result of the need for bail reform.  Principle concerns included committing, holding and housing detainees; judicial hearings occurring 24/7; funding for pretrial services; and local representation on the Pretrial Release Commission.

The Maryland Correctional Administrators Association, one of MACo’s professional affiliate organizations, has also aggressively engaged on these issues.  The local wardens held a day-long work session, including GOCCP and DPSCS to evaluate and suggest recommendations to SB 973/HB 1232.  They also met with a House of Delegates work group to address a range of practical and funding concerns with the bill. MCAA also provided testimony on SB 973.

For more information please read previous bail reform coverage from Conduit Street:

Bill Introduces Plan for New Pretrial Services Unit

Bill Would Overhaul Pre-Trial Appearance and Release System

Bail Reform: A Tale of Two Cities and an Urge for Action


MACo Testimony on SB 973

MCAA Testimony on SB 973

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties