Senate advances revamped bail system

A key state Senate committee advanced a bill Tuesday that would have the state eventually rely on a computer system to determine who gets released from jail after arrest and who has to post bail.

The computerized "risk assessment tool" would decide which offenders would have to wait to see a judge about bail, and would replace the state's current two-step system that relies on court commissioners to make that call.

Tuesday's vote by the Judicial Proceedings Committee to approve the plan marks the first action this session on any proposal to comply with a controversial court ruling that found Maryland's current system for determining bail violates the state's constitution. That Maryland Court of Appeals decision, which is currently on hold pending further arguments, found the system violated the due process rights of offenders because the state did not provide a defense lawyer during the commissioner hearings.

Lawmakers have balked at the $30 million annual price tag to provide attorneys at all such hearings, particularly because about half of all offenders statewide are released at that time. The computerized system costs roughly $18 million to implement, but it has drawn some objections over whether it is a fair way determine who should be released.

House and Senate committees discussing ways to revamp the state's bail system disagree on the best solution to the problem. The full Senate could begin debate as soon as Wednesday.

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