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Does Bail Reform Include Unsupervised Defendants?
By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Published: 04/01/2019

Handcuffs There are efforts throughout the country to release most defendants from jail before trial unless they are a threat to public safety or a flight risk. See a synopsis from The Marshall Project below.

Money is the great motivator of criminal justice reform. Cities and counties want to reduce their correctional budgets. I guess that doesn’t allow for a new agency to supervise pretrial defendants.

Whether you like it or not, defendants are constitutionally presumed innocent until proven guilty. Thus, the presumption is release with as few conditions as possible.

But the nature of many arrests involves violent victims identifying suspects. Without victim involvement, the great majority of violent and property crimes do not end in arrest.

Victims provide additional evidence (i.e., a battered spouse and her injuries), thus if he’s going through the arrest process, it’s plausible that he committed a crime.

Depending on the circumstances, virtually all of us in the system assume guilt. It’s sorta hard to believe otherwise when you have a rape victim identifying a suspect by name with collaborative evidence. When all the available data indicates that offenders keep offending, Recidivism in the US, it’s hard not to assume a connection to the facts.

Regardless, he remains innocent of his crimes until trial.

But Should He Be Supervised?

But should the defendant be supervised after release from booking up to the trial date?

Yes, in many cases of minor criminality, the defendant doesn’t need restrictions. But the premise of most discussions is release without conditions or release without supervision. Is that what we want?

There are pretrial supervision agencies that have a good track record of getting people to court, getting defendants to treatment or additional social services and keeping them relatively crime free until trial.

In past years, the bail reform discussion wanted an agency supervising and assisting, not just release without supervision or conditions. That doesn’t seem to be the case now.

DC Pretrial

The Pretrial Services Agency (PSA) of the District of Columbia is one of the best in the country as to getting defendants to trial and keeping them relatively crime free while waiting for their trial date, DC Pretrial.

They are responsible for gathering information about newly arrested defendants and preparing the recommendations considered by the court in deciding release options. They recommend the least restrictive conditions that promote public safety and return to court. Virtually no defendants currently are released on surety bonds.

PSA supervises defendants released to the community through a variety of programs that include drug treatment, mental health services and referral to a range of social services. They have partnerships with various justice agencies and community organizations as a way to build our capacity for support services for defendants under pretrial supervision.

If Pretrial in D.C. is so good at what they do, why aren’t their efforts replicated?


If we are going to release the vast majority of defendants without an agency’s supervision and assistance, we are asking for the downfall of bail reform.

So a man beats his wife but is back on the streets three hours later without supervision? Yes, he will have a stay away order, and we all know how effective that is.

So a person is accused of unlawful touching of a child but because it’s its first “known” offence, he’s not deemed to be a flight risk, thus releasable?

So a person beats up another during a botched robbery but the victim is known to the offender (not unusual). Because it’s not a stranger to stranger violent crime, he’s released.

In many of these cases, we know the defendant is going to “interact” with the victim unless there is an agency in place to take action, someone looking at the defendant’s behaviour, someone drug testing, someone viewing GPS tracking systems, someone the victim can call.


If we don’t implement pretrial supervision systems, bail reform may falter and die. There will be too many cases of defendants threatening victims. Victims will be too traumatized to report unless they have someone on their side.

You can’t put defendants on the honour system after an arrest. It’s not good for them, and it’s not in the best interest of public safety.

The Marshall Project

Bail reform in New York hasn’t waited for legislative changes. The percentage of cases in which bail is required in the city has dropped in half over the past three decades. At the same time the rate at which defendants are released without having to post cash bail has increased by half, a new study reveals. The changes largely reflect new attitudes among judges, defense attorneys and prosecutors. All this before legislators vote on a measure that would eliminate cash bail in New York, The Marshall Project.

See additional community supervision articles at Crime in America.

Reprinted with permission from http://www.crimeinamerica.net.

Contact us at crimeinamerica@gmail.com or for media on deadline, use leonardsipes@gmail.com.

Leonard A. Sipes, Jr has thirty-five years of experience supervising public affairs for national and state criminal justice agencies. He is the Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse and the Former Director of Information Management for the National Crime Prevention Council. He has a Post Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and is the author of the book "Success With the Media". He can be reached via email at leonardsipes@gmail.com.


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