If you're going to form an opinion on a subject such as public defenders and bail reform, you should have knowledge of that subject and a clear understanding of all of the facts. Obviously, The Sun's editorial supporting Senate Bill 973 ("Getting out of jail free," March 27) demonstrates you are not well informed.
You are partially right in saying, "The bill would prevent court commissioners from making decisions... negating the need for public defenders…." If you read the actual bill or listen to the testimony given in both the House and Senate committee hearings, you would realize 70 percent of the commissioners would be terminated. The only reason 30 percent get to keep their jobs is to do the other duties only commissioners can do and judges won't do at night or on weekends. If you or the majority of the General Assembly actually knew and understood all of the functions of the commissioner's office, you would realize what a tragic loss to the court system this bill creates.
You also promote the accuracy of the assessment tools being used in other parts of the country. There is no empirical data to confirm that statement. Even the experts in the field testified they had no such data. They even admitted more defendants would be held and would not be released as quickly as they are now. Check with Philadelphia. Their attempt at a computerized pretrial release system was a disaster. In North Carolina, one county had to discontinue its system because of cost.
The price tag you mention, $16 million, is ridiculously inaccurate. The District of Columbia has a program that proponents of this bill would like to emulate. Their budget proposal for Fiscal Year 15 is over $100 million. That amount of money would be only enough to finance the system in Baltimore City. Montgomery County has pretrial supervision in place now with a budget of $5.2 million. The House Judiciary Committee members even stated they believed they were being misled by the witnesses in regards to how much this would cost.
What the data does show is that with all of the millions of dollars spent using the "pretrial risk assessment tool" you end up with practically with the same results. The taxpayers of Maryland would be the ones taking the biggest risk.
Russell Barbely, Newark
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