The Minneapolis Foundation recently published an opinion paper titled: Pretrial Justice: A Report on the Cash Bail System. While likely well-intentioned, it does not include any actual jail data. Jail data is readily available in Hennepin County, Minnesota’s largest county. This begs the question, why omit data from your report?

Actual Jail Data

On November 7, 2019, there were 646 defendants in custody according to the Hennepin County jail site. Research was conducted to determine why they were in custody. The jail inquiry lists defendants by last name first. My study is not scientific. It is only a one-day snapshot using the first 100 defendants on the inquiry list. However, sampling other last names not part of the first 100 did not appear to change the results.

Summary of Findings

The 100 defendants collectively had 256 pending cases at the time of their current arrest. They had 214 new charges. Extrapolating for the remaining population would produce over 1500 pending cases for the 646 who were in jail on November 7, 2019.  

52% have “No Bond” holds for a variety of reasons. Many had one or more existing cases pending while arrested on other charges. Some had out of county warrants. Several others had prior probation, parole, and pretrial violations.

34% had a bond amount. Three were “lower” bonds of $10,000 or less. The rest ranged from $20,000 to $2,000,000. None of the charges were “low level”, non-violent, misdemeanor offenses. All in jail on November 7, 2019 had at least one felony charge. Charges ranged from fraud to drugs to terribly violent offenses like child sexual battery, aggravated robbery, assault, arson, felon in possession of a handgun, and murder.

12% released either through bond, their own recognizance, or to a government pretrial agency.

2% could not be determined. Their arrest sheet noted “no bond required”. The limited information did not explain why they were still being held.

Belief vs. Fact

The Minneapolis Foundation erroneously believes the Hennepin County jail is filled with “low-level”, non-violent defendants. Data proves they are wrong. They may not know Minneapolis already spends millions of taxpayer dollars to pay defendant bail as one option for pretrial release. Government employees use a questionnaire to “assess” defendants. Based on a score, defendants are released or held. In Minnesota, there is already a presumption of release for many misdemeanor crimes. Judges already release thousands of defendants each year without a monetary bond. Judges use their experience and discretion to determine bail. When there is concern a defendant will not return to court without accountability, the judge will require bail as an additional level of assurance.

The Minneapolis Foundation noted that the pretrial population across the United States is about 60% of the total jail population. While possibly true, the devil is in the detail. notes one-third of the pretrial population are violent offenders. Studies by unbiased professors and PHD’s have shown another 20% to 30% or more are “No Bail” holds. The likely pretrial population that can be safely released is much closer to 20%.

Hennepin County Data

Hennepin County data proves 82% of the pretrial population are properly held. With 12% released, it leaves the true pretrial population that can be safely released at only 6%. Not 60% as the Foundation assumes. They may have written a much different paper had they taken a few hours to look at actual jail data. Unfortunately, they had their minds made up prior to beginning their research.

New Jersey

New Jersey did eliminate defendant paid bail. They now have taxpayer paid bail. Now, government employees make recommendations for release. Over 90% of defendants released pretrial have conditions. Many conditions include drug screening, anger management, and in office reporting. Lots of requirements for presumed innocent defendants. Additionally, it now costs New Jersey over $100 million per year for the release of about six thousand additional defendants! A cost of over $16,000 per additional defendant released! Prior to 2017 taxpayers did not pay the bail of defendants. In addition, the rate of failure to appear increased. The rate of new crimes committed while released pretrial also increased. Is this the system Minneapolis Foundation desires? Much greater cost with worse results?

Judicial Discretion

Minneapolis Foundation insinuates the thousands of criminal justice judges across the U.S. are uncaring, unjust, and unqualified. They conclude almost all defendants can be released without any accountability. If a judge requests a bond, the judge is wrong. My preference is to have an experienced, knowledgeable judge who uses law and defendant data to make release decisions. Leave judicial discretion in place.

The Minneapolis Foundation likely does much good with the hundreds of millions of dollars within their foundation. Unfortunately, they did not perform the necessary research using actual data to come to an informed conclusion. Instead, they relied on other opinions to form their conclusion. Bail decisions must be based on data, not theory.

About Ken Berke

Ken Berke is a licensed bail agent in Florida. As Executive Vice President of Roche Surety & Casualty Co. Inc. he frequently travels throughout the United States meeting with bail agents and the public to increase awareness of the professionalism and importance of the bail industry to victims, defendants and the judicial system. He is a frequent contributor to the Roche Surety blog where he dispels false claims against the 8th Amendment and bail through facts, statistics and logic.