Opponents Say Ohio Constitutional Amendment Could Undermine Bail Reform

click to enlarge An estimated 90% of people in jail pretrial cannot afford the cash bail set by the court. - (ADOBE STOCK)
(Adobe Stock)
An estimated 90% of people in jail pretrial cannot afford the cash bail set by the court.

Advocacy organizations of differing ideologies appear to be in agreement when it comes to certain bail reform efforts in Ohio.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear proponent testimony on a proposed fix to an Ohio Supreme Court ruling, which said courts cannot use public safety as a factor in setting bail.

Senate Joint Resolution 5 would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November to allow courts to use public safety and other factors in determining the amount of bail posted.

Alan Smith, criminal justice fellow at the Buckeye Institute, a free-market public policy think tank, argued Ohio would be better served by bipartisan reform efforts in the Legislature.

"The focus here is on accused persons who are in jail because they couldn't organize bail money and people with resources can pay their way out," Smith pointed out. "There's a discrepancy there."

Senate Bill 182 and House Bill 315 would write into law the presumption for release rather than detention and greatly reduce the use of cash bail. The measures also are supported by the ACLU of Ohio, Common Cause Ohio, Ohio Conservatives for Bail Reform, and Policy Matters Ohio.

Supporters of the constitutional amendment, including the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, argued judges should not be limited in their ability to consider victims' rights and public safety. But Smith countered changing the constitution would undermine current and future legislative work.

"It may affect negatively some of the long-term work that's been put into bail reform," Smith explained. "There might be perceived conflicts because one set of rules is in the Constitution and another set would be statutory."

Smith added reducing the use of cash bail will keep people with low-level offenses out of jail and save the state money, while preserving the principle of innocent until proved guilty.

"There's a wide spectrum of ideological interest in making the system better," Smith noted. "It all comes back to public acceptance. The idea is that we could improve the system that's out there, and in that sense, I suppose improve civilization."

The Senate resolution gets its second hearing today. Its companion bill, House Joint Resolution 2, was passed by a House committee last week.
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