April 22, 2022

Corrections Corner / Deacon Marc Kellams

State attempting to balance issues of fair bail, public safety

Deacon Marc KellamsThis is the third column in a series on Indiana’s system of bail.

In February’s “Corrections Corner,” we looked at the bail system in Indiana, which for many years has required the posting of money or the payment of a bond premium for a person to be released from jail and how that system weighed against the poor.

March’s column focused on the Indiana Supreme Court’s recognition of this inequity by establishing pilot projects around the state to look at bail in a different way.

In 2020, the Indiana Supreme Court concluded a four-year review of the bail system in Indiana and promulgated Criminal Rule 26 which reversed the presumption that an arrestee be held until they could pay bail in favor of a determination that as long as the arrestee “does not present a substantial risk of flight or danger to self or others,” the court “should release the arrestee without money bail.”

Under this new system, a person when arrested is evaluated by a trained and certified professional using a tool called the Indiana Risk Assessment System for adults (IRAS), which looks primarily at two things: based upon the person’s history are they likely to appear when ordered to do so; and are they a danger to the community if released. This system respected the constitutional guarantee that a person arrested is innocent until proven guilty. Many more people were released pending trial.

Inevitably, some of those released under this new system committed further crimes, and the new system was blamed. Then there was the issue involving The Bail Project, a national organization that posts bail for accused offenders who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it and which relies on a revolving bail fund that provides bail money.

Headlines proclaiming the danger to the public as the result of bail reform and concerns expressed by police organizations piqued the interest of the legislature, which ultimately led to the introduction of House Bill 1300, which prevents organizations from bailing out anyone charged with a violent crime in Indiana, as well as anyone with a past conviction for a violent crime who is charged with any new felony. This bill passed out of the legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb on March 15.

Indiana Criminal Rule 26 addresses three purposes: the reduction of pretrial-detention expenses for local jails at taxpayer expense; the release of defendants awaiting trial to return to their jobs and support their families; and the intended enhancement of reduced recidivism and improved public safety. It is the last of these purposes that continues to provoke concern.

Indiana’s recent bail-reform initiatives call into question the legal standards governing pretrial release, the level of discretion enjoyed by trial courts, and the standard of review on appeal.

An opinion in the matter of Sierra M. Dewess v. State of Indiana issued by the Indiana Supreme Court on Feb. 3 addresses these concerns in an ongoing attempt to balance the issues of fair bail and public safety.

(Deacon Marc Kellams is the Coordinator of Corrections Ministry for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. He can be reached at mkellams@archindy.org or call 317-592-4012.) †

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