Bruce Plante Cartoon: Governor Stitt stops short - SMALLER

Thousands of Oklahomans are sitting in jails — convicted of no crimes — simply because they don’t have enough money to pay bail.

It costs taxpayers to house the defendants, and it costs communities in lost wages and family disruption. It turns the U.S. Constitution’s promise of innocent until proven guilty on its ear.

Reforming cash bail remains a critical part of the overall criminal justice reforms needed to bring down Oklahoma’s unsustainable incarceration rate.

Let’s review the basics: The purpose of bail is to make sure a person accused of a crime shows up for subsequent court hearings. Period. Full stop. It isn’t meant to be leverage for prosecutors trying to coerce pleas, a mechanism to keep jails full or for a cash cow for the bail bonds industry.

If they are not flight risks or dangers to the community, defendants, particularly those facing misdemeanor and nonviolent charges, should be released to return to their jobs, raise their families and resolve their cases.

Oklahoma’s judicial system moves at a deliberate pace, which too often turns poor defendants into hostages of the cash bail system.

Both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature have passed versions of Senate Bill 252, sponsored by Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah. The measure would assure a bond hearing within 48 hours of arrest and ban bail higher than what the court “determines is necessary to ensure the person’s return to court.”

It would allow judges the power to release detainees on their own recognizance, except in cases with a serious violent felony. It also would allow judges to consider a detainee’s ability to pay in setting bail.

That’s an excellent start on fixing the problem.

Gov. Kevin Stitt should add bail reform to his criminal justice package.

While there is much to like in the governor’s reform package, the absence of bail reform is obvious.

Oklahoma locks up a higher percentage of its population than any other state, a shameful and unaffordable reality. If we want to do something about it, it seems like a good place to start would be with the people who are innocent until proven guilty.


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