2019 Session: Bill would gather data on state’s cash bail system

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – If Arkansans cannot afford bail, they can choose between bond or jail.

Meanwhile, wealthier suspects, accused of the same crime, can walk prior to their trial.

State lawmakers are working to make sure the cash bail system treats the rich and poor equally.

“There are two systems: one for people who have means, who can get out of jail, buy their way out and another system for people who don’t have means,” said St. Rep. Andrew Collins, D-Little Rock. “Right now, we don’t know anything about bail.”

Collins filed a bill Tuesday with his Republican colleague in the House, St. Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould, a former prosecutor, that would change that by requiring the monitoring and reporting of bail information and public transparency. It would also track Arkansans through the criminal justice process.

The data would inform future reform efforts.

“People will simply take a deal to get out of jail even if they’re innocent,” Collins said. “If it’s just a matter of being poor, we give them the opportunity to find a better way rather than being locked up indefinitely.”

The bill states Arkansas spends about $100 million every year on pre-trial detention. Inmates who are deemed dangerous or a flight risk would stay put, but others, regardless of their bank account, could walk prior to their trial.

When asked about potential pushback from bail bondsmen, Collins said, “Ultimately, it’s in their interest to have this information as well. This bill doesn’t undue bail. It doesn’t throw bail out the window.” 

The largest county in Arkansas, Pulaski County, is in the process of getting new software that will track data from the bail system to recidivism. The sheriff’s office hopes to have it operational in June.

In October, California will become the first state in the country to abolish bail for suspects awaiting trial. 

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