Republican bills push for cash bail
>> Just two days before he drove his SUV through a Christmas parade in suburban Milwaukee, killing six people and injuring more than 60, Darrell Brooks Jr. had posted bail for charges of domestic violence.
He had been accused of using his SUV to run over the mother of his child, and a pretrial assessment found Brooks was at high risk of reoffending. But a court official set that bail at a mere $1,000 cash at the request of prosecutors, who later called their recommendation a mistake. For the parade killings, Brooks was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Brooks quickly became the poster child for a Republican-backed push to enact tougher bail policies. The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature is asking voters to ratify a constitutional amendment that would make it harder for violent criminals to get out of jail on bail.
GOP lawmakers in other states also are scrambling to make it harder for defendants to get out of jail before trial after branding themselves as tough on crime in the 2022 midterm elections. Their efforts have led to a fierce fight with Democrats over public safety and the rights of criminal defendants.
Recent Democratic overhaul measures in states such as Illinois and New York have sought to eliminate cash bail and lessen pretrial detention on the premise they do more harm than good, especially to marginalized groups.
But Republican lawmakers in at least 14 states have introduced some 20 bills so far this year to do just the opposite. Their proposals include increasing the number of non-bailable offenses, requiring more people to pay cash bail and encouraging or requiring judges to consider a defendant's criminal record when setting bail.
Criminal justice experts and advocacy groups warn the Republican-backed measures aren't supported by research and could worsen crime rates and disparities between rich and poor. Bail is meant to ensure a defendant returns to court and isn't supposed to be a punishment, since the defendant hasn't yet been convicted.
“Cash bail is not a benefit to defendants or to public safety,” said Shima Baradaran Baughman, a law professor at the University of Utah who studies bail.
“When people are detained before trial even for a few days, they are dramatically more likely to reoffend later,” Baughman said. “In other words, it is much safer to the public to release most people before trial than to detain them.”