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Cuyahoga County Bail Reform Task Force Delivers its Report

The presiding judge for the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court now has a task force report on bail reform.
The presiding judge for the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court now has a task force report on bail reform.

About a year and half ago the presiding judge of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Courtcalled for a study and recommendations on how to reform the county’s bail system.  Now that report has been delivered.

Recommendations of bail reform task force

Drivers for the report

Jonathan Witmer-Rich of Cleveland State University’s Marshall Law School led the drafting of the task force report.  He says reasons ranging from improving efficiency in the justice system to lowering cost were drivers of the task force’s work, but addressing the need to make sure the bail system is as fair and equitable as possible was the number one goal. "There’s been a nationwide movement for reexamining how courts do bail and pre-trial release. And a big concern is to make sure that people are not being unnecessarily detained pre-trial simply because they’re too poor to afford whatever bail they get set for them”

The report's recommendations

Changes recommended by the task force include bringing the now separate bail practices of the county’s various courts into one system, developing uniform criteria for assessing flight risk and danger to the public of people in custody seeking bail and centralizing bail hearings.

The report also calls for avoiding elevated bail as a way to keep defendants deemed to be too dangerous from gaining pre-trial release. "Traditionally judges have also thought about dangerousness to the community when they set a bail amount," says Witmer-Rich.  “But money bail should not be used to try to address dangerousness because money bail just depends on how much money the defendant has.”  And Witmer-Rich adds that if someone is really a danger to the community, the judge should order them to be detained.  

A way to save money in the long run

In addition to recommendations for what the courts need to do, the task force report calls on the county government to fund improved and expanded pre-trial services. According to Witmer-Rich, the modest investment will lead to a far more significant cost reductions going forward.  “You spend some money on providing early assessments and pre-trial services and what you save then comes from having to incarcerate fewer people" and, overall, minimizing the time that pre-trail detainees are kept in jail--which is the most expensive way to handle them.  

Judge John Russo, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court
Judge John Russo, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court

What comes next

The report is now in the hands of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Presiding Judge John Russo, who formed the task force.  In a prepared statement he says "I am happy that the report is completed, and I am grateful to everyone who volunteered, especially those who saw the report through to its conclusion. There are many good suggestions that will be a catalyst for discussion among the stakeholders in the Cuyahoga County justice system. Any changes would require consensus among the stakeholders, and some would require financial backing.”

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Tim Rudell
Tim Rudell has worked in broadcasting and news since his student days at Kent State in the late 1960s and early 1970s (when he earned extra money as a stringer for UPI). He began full time in radio news in 1972 in his home town of Canton, OH.