Detroit’s 36th District Court and local advocates have settled a federal class-action lawsuit over cash bail practices, according to The Associated Press. The advocates The Bail Project said the city’s criminal legal system jails poor people of color at a disproportionate rate - many of which can rarely afford to post bail.
AP News reported up to three quarters of the people jailed daily in Detroit are Black. Advocates are looking to bail reform to close the racial gap as well as the wealth gap in the court system. Chief Judge William McConico of the 36th District Court said this was an opportunity for law enforcement and activists to work together.
“This is a historic agreement that we believe can and should be a template for how courts around the country can adapt their bail practices to what is lawful, constitutional and sensible,” said Phil Mayor, senior staff attorney at the Michigan ACLU.
Read more about the bail reforms from AP News:
The reforms do not bar judges from imposing cash bail, especially if defendants are deemed a flight risk or a danger to the public. However, all Detroit judges and magistrates must say on the record how imposing bail would protect the community or prevent a failure to appear. Judges must also make an on-the-record determination as to how much a defendant can afford to pay.
The parties also agreed that any defendant who is at 200% of the federal poverty level or less is to be assumed unable to post cash bond. According to the 2022 federal guidelines, 200% of the poverty level is annual earnings of roughly $27,000 for an individual and $55,000 for a family of four.
The sides also agreed to new rules stipulating when and what triggers a bail redetermination hearing, if a defendant’s bail has been set but goes unpaid. The hearing would allow for a bail amount to be reduced or withdrawn altogether if it is later deemed unaffordable.
In previous interviews, the ACLU and The Bail Project voiced their support for legislative pretrial reforms, per the Michigan Advance. Three of the proposed bail-focused bills would modify interim bail bonds for misdemeanors, create requirements for assessing pretrial risk and eliminate bail for traffic offenses.
“These are folks who have not been convicted of any crime. And, simply because they can’t afford to pay their bill, they’re sitting behind bars,” said Liz Balck, advocacy strategist at the Michigan ACLU via Michigan Advance.