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The right way to do pre-trial detention

State Sen. Will Smith, of Montgomery County speaks in favor of bail reform at a rally last year in Annapolis.
State Sen. Will Smith, of Montgomery County speaks in favor of bail reform at a rally last year in Annapolis. (By Paul W. Gillespie / Staff)

Baltimore County officials are to be commended for proactively launching their own pilot pretrial assessment and services program in response to the Court of Appeals’ rule change aimed at reducing the use of unfair and dangerous money bail (“Getting smart on pre-trial detention in Balt. Co.,” Dec. 27). It is important, though, that any changes be consistent with proven best practices so that we don’t find ourselves replacing one set of injustices with another.

For example, no legally innocent person should have to pay to be electronically monitored in their own home, as the Baltimore County plan reportedly requires. Electronic monitoring should happen infrequently since most people stay out of trouble and show up in court with little or no supervision, and the expense — modest compared to jail time — should be borne by the courts. Similarly, an assessment score alone should never be sufficient legal grounds for jailing someone. Rather, it should trigger a hearing that requires the state to prove nothing short of detention will keep the community safe or ensure the person won’t flee before trial. And no one with a criminal charge that cannot result in a jail sentence should be detained pretrial. Ever.

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While pretrial detention may be necessary for a small number of very dangerous people facing serious charges, research shows that even a couple of days of unnecessary pretrial detention can leave some people more likely to commit crime in the future.

The Court of Appeals has given Maryland an opportunity to make our justice system fairer and our communities safer by reducing unnecessary pretrial detention. State officials should take the next step by providing guidance and support on common sense best practices so that all Maryland counties can seize this opportunity effectively.

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Robin Campbell, Towson

The writer is director of communications at the Pretrial Justice Institute.

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