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Detroit — The Wayne County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution this week calling for bond reform, stating the current system of pretrial release does not ensure fair and equal treatment of all citizens.

The resolution put forth by Wayne County Commission Chair Alisha Bell expresses strong opposition to the current system, in which some defendants are held in jail solely for lacking the finances to post bail before trial, Bell said.

"It’s unfair that for people facing the same charges, one can be sent home while another has to stay in jail," Bell said. "This is an issue that is growing across the country, county by county, state by state."

It supports the bipartisan legislation proposed in the House and Senate which would allow more people accused of crimes to be released on their own recognizance before trial rather than have to pay. Judges could still set bail if they determine defendants pose an undue danger or there are significant risks of them failing to appear in court. However, it would prohibit judges from basing cash bail on pre-established amounts.

The resolution calls for expansion of a Michigan Supreme Court pretrial pilot program, currently enacted in the 31st District Court in Hamtramck as well as four other courts throughout the state, designed to limit the amount of time financially challenged individuals spend in jail before they face trial.

The County resolution follows a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan last week against magistrates who preside over arraignments, claiming a "broken bail system" is punitive toward the poor and minorities at Detroit's 36th District Court.

The ACLU and law firm Covington & Burling LLP filed the federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of seven plaintiffs in U.S. District Court. Lawyers are urging the court to order systemic reforms to Detroit’s pretrial bail system ahead of the new $533 million jail complex in the works for Wayne County.

More: ACLU files lawsuit against district court over 'broken bail system'

More: Testimonies of those impacted by bail

Bell said bail reform has been a priority of her legislative agenda since before she took office in January.

Last year, Bell approved a similar resolutions as President of the National Association of Black County Officials and as Chair of the Committee on Justice & Public Safety of the National Organization of Counties. 

The Wayne County resolution noted that the use of money bail has increased over the past two decades as has the number of jail inmates being held in advance of their trial, with pretrial inmates making up 62% of the nation’s jail population.

Of those, 90% were not considered a flight risk or danger to the public. 

The Wayne County Jail system collectively houses 1,600 individuals each night. It costs approximately $165 per night to detain a person.

“Instead, the most common reason why an individual remains incarcerated pretrial is simply because he or she could not muster the financial resources needed to secure his or her freedom," according to the resolution. 

srahal@detroitnews.com
Twitter: @SarahRahal_

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