New pretrial release system encouraging step

Tackling an issue at the forefront is better than playing catch-up. That’s what Bartholomew County is doing by implementing a new procedure for those who are arrested.

The local judicial system is involved in a new pilot pretrial program that has just gone into effect. Evidence-based decision making uses a formula to assess a suspect’s risk to commit additional crimes or flee. Suspects who are assessed as posing a low risk are booked and released without spending time in jail. However, others determined to be a high risk still must post bond to be released. No longer is release dependent solely upon one’s ability to pay a bond.

Setting bond as an incentive for a suspect to appear in court is grounded in legal tradition. But when suspects with financial means are able to secure their release from jail while other suspects facing identical charges but with inadequate financial means are unable to post the required 10 percent cash bond, that amounts to discrimination.

The belief behind the new process is that eliminating social-economic status is more fair, and keeping low-risk people out of jail makes it less likely for them to commit the same crime again or break the law in other ways.

We agree.

Bartholomew is one of nine Indiana counties to test the program ahead of statewide implementation, taking an important step in making sure justice is applied equally.

That puts the county on the cutting edge of criminal justice system reform, and is a good step toward other needed improvements. Notably, one is the need for more drug rehabilitation programs to be an option in the court system than just time behind bars.

Officials in the local criminal justice system have identified that need because the use of methamphetamine and heroin is a significant and growing problem. However, jail time for drug offenders doesn’t treat the root problem, making it likely that drug users will be repeat offenders.

The steps that local judges, the police and prosecutor, probation officials and counseling professionals have taken by modifying the pretrial release system are encouraging and bode well for future improvements.