Michigan Needs Bail Reform

New report outlines how to improve bail process to benefit defendants and the public

Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Holly Wetzel
Communications Coordinator

MIDLAND — Michigan’s current bail practice is failing defendants and taxpayers, according to a new policy brief recently released by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Bail helps the criminal justice system operate more efficiently by allowing defendants to be released from custody while they are awaiting trial. Most criminal defendants are offered bail, and it has been used for centuries. Bail frees up jails and reduces costs to taxpayers.

The current practice of cash bail in Michigan has drawn criticism from both sides of the political aisle. People who are legally innocent are being detained simply because they cannot afford bail. This disproportionately impacts low-income defendants, who risk losing their jobs and community ties. It also raises costs for taxpayers when jails are full of defendants awaiting trial.

Kahryn Riley, director of criminal justice reform at the Mackinac Center and author of the paper, outlines the extent of these problems.

“It’s important to remember that Michigan law currently allows people accused of dangerous crimes to be released if they can afford their bail. Asking them to provide collateral may help ensure good behavior and future appearance at trial,” Riley said. “The big problem is that people accused of minor crimes often can’t afford their bail and are detained in jail, effectively serving the punishment while still legally innocent. Meanwhile, they risk losing their job, housing or child custody. This has spinoff consequences for employers, landlords and families.”

Lawmakers should consider reforms that would take a more wholistic approach to determining the amount of bail required for pretrial release. Courts should take into account a defendant’s criminal record, moral character, the seriousness of the offense and the ability of the defendant to afford bail. This would provide low-income defendants an equal opportunity to maintain their freedom while they await trial and reduce the harm imposed on them by remaining confined in jail. This would potentially provide long-term benefits to the individual, but also to their family, friends and community as a whole.

“Other states have successfully reformed their bail practices, reducing costs to taxpayers without sacrificing public safety,” Riley added. “Michigan should follow in their footsteps and modernize bail so that it better serves its actual purpose.”

You can view the complete paper here.