House Hears Bail Reform, Voices Concerns

Concerns over costs and the use of an objective risk assessment tool rather than district court commissioners was the over-arching theme at a hearing Tuesday in front of the House Judiciary Committee on a proposal to address bail reform. As previously reported on Conduit Street, House bill 1232 (cross-file Senate bill 973) offers a plan for pretrial services including a pre-arraignment assessment tool.

As reported in The Daily Record, Committee Chair Joseph F. Vallario Jr., supported retaining the commissioner system rather than using a computerized risk assessment tool to determine whether an arrestee should be released or held. The undetermined costs of the proposal drew concern from Delegate Luiz Simmons.

But Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons said the project’s costs have yet to be calculated by the General Assembly’s Department of Legislative Services, so any asserted savings are dubious.

“These numbers are very, very, as we say in the law, ‘squishy,’” Simmons said at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the measure, House Bill 1232.

Maryland Public Defender Paul B. DeWolfe, a supporter, has said that replacing initial bail hearings with the risk assessments would save the state the approximately $30 million it would cost to have attorneys on call around the clock at the 177,000 initial bail hearings held annually.

But it could be more financially sound for the state to provide the $30 million to the Office of the Maryland Public Defender, said Simmons, D-Montgomery, a committee member.

“We’ll never know that until we get good numbers” on the cost of the project, he added. “I fear we will not.”

In the meantime, the $30 million “might not be much to ask” in light of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s budget request for $39 billion next fiscal year, which begins July 1, Simmons said.

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. A panel of local wardens and correctional directors testified as to the issues facing local correction facilities as a result of the need for bail reform and potential solutions for those concerns. MACo and the panel of local wardens and correctional directors also testified at the Senate hearing Wednesday, February 19.

Read the full article in The Daily Record (limited views available).