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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The Bail Project issues report to judges, responds to criticism

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Clients of The Bail Project in Marion County appear in court 95% of the time, and a little more than 25% are arrested for a new allegation during the pretrial period, according to a report the charitable bail organization put together for Marion County judges.

The Bail Project has come under fire because of high-profile cases in which the accused perpetrator was bailed out by the group. The organization’s leaders have called it a concerted attack orchestrated in part by the private bail bond industry, but Marion Superior Court suspended its support for the organization in December 2021 and requested the report in order to continue support.

The report includes data specific to The Bail Project, as well as a comparison to those released on bonds paid by the commercial bail bond industry. There are five letters of support at the end of the document from people and organizations including Indiana Addiction Issues Coalition and RecycleForce.

The organization created a portal and unique login for judges to access lists and data used for the report. Communications director Camilo Ramirez said judges hadn’t responded as of March 21.

The Bail Project, which helps poor people post bail they otherwise can’t afford, came to Indianapolis in 2019. The group takes referrals and meets with the person being held pretrial. If eligible, The Bail Project posts bail at no cost to the person. The organization also provides court notifications and transportation with the idea being people will still show up to court without a direct financial incentive.

The report says getting 95% of clients to appear in court offers “ample evidence that people return to court at high rates without having financial ‘skin in the game.’” In the case of a surety bond, a private bail agent typically charges a percentage of the full bail amount, and the person won’t get that money back regardless of if charges are dropped or the person is found not guilty.

Most clients of The Bail Project face misdemeanors or low-level felonies, the report says. The organization has provided bail for 980 people, and more than half of cases have been dismissed. Of those who received convictions, 15% were required to serve additional time incarcerated.

Other findings in the report:

• More than half of the people in jail are Black, and 62% of the group’s clients are Black.

• Clients have made 3,686 court appearances.

• For those rearrested for a new allegation, 82% were for misdemeanors and low-level felonies.

• Over 70% of clients identify at least one need for housing, substance use treatment, employment or mental health resources.

• Clients are 20% less likely to be arrested for new charges as those who are released on bonds paid by the commercial bail bond industry. (To create a comparison group, the organization developed a sample of people released pretrial who shared characteristics with its clients.)

• Only “a fraction of one percent” of rearrests were for allegations of murder.

It’s the allegations of murder that have made headlines. The report details specific cases, including at least one person later charged with murder who got bail assistance not only from The Bail Project, but also a private entity and family.

“We don’t show up at the jail and just start swiping a credit card,” said Twyla Carter, the group’s national legal and policy director.

Carter and others with The Bail Project say it’s unfair to pin all of the blame on a charitable bail organization when private bail bond groups aren’t held to the same standard.

The backlash from high-profile cases led state Republicans to pass legislation that sets limits on who charitable bail organizations can help. Now, organizations such as The Bail Project can only assist people charged with misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, so long as the accused hasn’t been convicted of a violent felony before.

Carter said the legislation creates a double standard by limiting what charitable groups can do but not for-profit bail businesses.

“It is clearly a piece of legislation that is not about protecting the public,” she said. “It’s not about public safety.”

David Gaspar, national operations director, said the new law and general pushback against the organization will negatively impact poor people who are in jail before they go to trial.

“The Bail Project being targeted isn’t an attack on The Bail Project directly,” said Gaspar, who lives in Indianapolis. “It’s an attack on our most impoverished community members.”

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853 or email at tylerf@indyrecorder.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.


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