Sen. Ruth Johnson sponsors bail system reform

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Ruth Johnson on Thursday introduced legislation to reform Michigan’s cash bail system. Johnson’s proposal is part of a multi-bill package that aims to reduce the number of low-risk offenders who are locked up in jail simply because they cannot afford bail.

“No one should lose their job, their home or their children simply because they cannot afford bail for a minor offense,” said Johnson, R-Holly. “This bipartisan package will reinforce the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and ensure low-income residents who do not pose a flight risk or a danger to society are released from jail as they await trial.

“These smart reforms will improve the fairness of our justice system for low-income defendants, and it will save taxpayer dollars.”

According to a 2015 Department of Justice report, roughly 41 percent of jail inmates in Michigan were there awaiting trial, which costs taxpayers about $500,000 per day and $180 million per year. Many of these individuals are held simply because they cannot afford bail.

Senate Bill 211 would prohibit excessive bail and require judges to take into account a person’s ability to pay when a cash bond is necessary. SB 214 would create a financial disclosure form for defendants and require judges to impose the least strenuous conditions needed to ensure the defendant will return for trial.

Johnson’s bill, SB 215, would set penalties for defendants who knowingly misrepresent their financial status on the disclosure form. Judges would still have discretion to set very high bail or no bail for defendants they believe have a high risk of not returning for trial or who pose an undue danger to the community.

“Michigan’s current bail system is broken and unfairly punishes the poor, regardless of the severity of the crime they are being charged with or their risk to the public,” Johnson said.

SBs 207-215 also include legislation establishing best practices for judges who are setting bonds.

Similar measures were introduced in the House on Wednesday. The Senate bills have been referred to the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee for consideration.

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