Case Western Reserve University, along with Cleveland Marshall College of Law and the Metropolitan Bar Association, provides legal expertise in county’s Bail Task Force, which recently released its much-anticipated report

Money shouldn’t be the only reason defendants are detained during bail hearings, concludes the Cuyahoga County Bail Task Force’s recently released report, recommending extensive judicial reforms.

During the past year, Case Western Reserve University School of Law, along with Cleveland Marshall College of Law and the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, played a central role in crafting and delivering the task force’s much-anticipated recommendations.

If adopted, the proposals could dramatically change how courts operate, as well as the mechanisms in which bail is set for the accused.

“We were grateful to Judge (John) Russo for asking us to help organize this vitally important bail-reform initiative,” said School of Law Co-Dean Michael Scharf. “We’re also grateful to—and proud of—our faculty experts, professors Carmen Naso, Lew Katz and Mike Benza, for their participation in these leadership roles, chairing three of the committees and drafting the final report.”

Law school Co-Dean Jessica Berg is optimistic about the potential for change.

“We are confident that the report provides a workable pathway to create a bail system that is more fair and efficient for Cuyahoga County,” she said.

Bail Task Force recommendations

The report recommends that all Cuyahoga County courts should transition from a bail system based on bond schedules—widely varying from one court to the next—to a centralized, consistent and comprehensive system of pretrial services, and that the bail process should be initiated immediately after arrest.

Among other key recommendations, courts should favor release on personal recognizance for minor offenses, such as traffic cases and non-jailable, non-violent offenses.

Instead, the report recommends using a uniform risk-assessment tool to assess each defendant’s risk of failing to appear in court and posing danger to the community. “If money bail is considered, courts should evaluate each defendant’s risk of non-appearance and ability to pay, and then tailor money bail accordingly,” the report concludes.

The two reasons for imposing conditions on granting or denying pretrial release are ensuring the accused show up for the hearing and protecting the community.

“Financial conditions to release should not be used to simply detain an individual throughout the pretrial period,” the report urges.

Centralized bail hearings should be expanded, operate more efficiently and be a more equitable process, according to the report. In addition to reducing “collateral consequences” for the accused—such as job loss while jailed—a centralized bail hearing would also save money.

Other recommendations include:

  • Bail hearings within 48 hours of an arrest.
  • Actual hearings rather than bail set based on bond schedules with pre-determined dollar amounts.
  • Shifting to simplified and more effective risk-assessment tools.
  • Early evaluations of each defendant, using specific information from a single, uniform database about criminal history and pending cases.
  • Improved data collection, training and implementation.
  • Improved notice of hearing and quick access to bail/release.

For more information, contact Colin McEwen at colin.mcewen@case.edu

This article was originally published March 26, 2018.