SALT LAKE CITY — A new plan that would address concerns about people being held in jail because they can’t afford bail is moving ahead in Utah despite some lawmakers’ concerns that it could let dangerous people back on the streets, state courts officials said Thursday.
Supporters argue the automated program giving judges information about suspects’ risk history is a step toward a fairer system that will be safer because risky suspects won’t be able to buy their way out of jail without abolishing cash bail.
But lawmakers like Republican Rep. Paul Ray of Clearfield aren’t convinced.
He wants to delay the rollout until the Legislature has a chance to debate the issue next year. After a close vote on Wednesday, lawmakers decided to formally ask the courts to wait.
Court officials, though, say the program has already undergone careful scrutiny, including a legislative audit that pointed the courts in that direction. It’s still on track for a November rollout with a Harvard study planned on how it’s working, said court spokesman Geoff Fattah.
Bail-bondsmen are among those arguing against the change they say could devastate their industry.
“This tool is a side way to implement the no-money bail movement,” said Jeff Clayton with the American Bail Coalition. He says people who put up money to get out of jail show they have ties to the community because family and friends are usually involved. Having cash at stake ensures people come back to court, and if they fail to show up a bail bondsman can track them down rather than police, he said.
But concerns have grown around the country about people kept in jail because they can’t pay, and it’s been the subject of legal challenges in at least 10 states like Texas and Georgia. Several states have made changes taking into account factors like whether a suspect has a history of violent crime or ditching court appearances.
Among those speaking for the change in Utah was former U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman.
“The current money bail system isn’t working,” he said in a statement. “I’m hopeful that Utah will continue to move forward.”