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Criminal Justice Council creates task force, sets no timeline for bail reforms

October 1, 2018

Criminal Justice Council creates task force, sets no timeline for bail reforms

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Cuyahoga County’s Criminal Justice Council created a task force Monday to identify bail reforms that should be adopted by courts in the county. 

The task force will be led by John J. Russo, presiding and administrative judge of the County Common Pleas Court, and include Cleveland Municipal Judge Michelle Earley, Shaker Heights Municipal Judge K.J. Montgomery and Brandy Carney, chief of the county’s Public Safety and Justice Services Department. 

Other council members have been invited to join the task force, which will make recommendations to the council’s executive committee. The next full meeting of the council will be in January. 

Creation of the task force comes nearly a year after the Pretrial Justice Institute, a Maryland-based advocacy group, released a report that detailed unacceptable levels of pretrial detention in the county. 

At Monday’s session, neither Russo nor County Executive Armond Budish, who co-chairs the council with Russo, offered up any timeline for when they would like to see specific reforms embraced. But Budish said he expects the task force to begin its work right away.

“So, if you’re planning on being in Europe the next three months, don’t sign up,” he said,

Russo has said previously that the decisions of the council are not binding. 

Creation of the council was announced in June. It includes court officials, police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, city and county officials as well as advocacy groups. The purpose of the council is to tackle such issues as bail reform and better treatment for suspects with mental-health concerns. 

In March, the Cuyahoga County Bail Task Force, which was commissioned by Russo, addressed the Pretrial Justice Institute report that was made public in October of 2017. 

Russo created that task force days after cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer began its Justice for All series, which has been advocating to reform unfair bail and license-suspension practices. 

Cleveland State University law professor Jonathan Witmer-Rich, one of the authors of the bail task force report, discussed some of the findings of the institute report with the council on Monday morning. 

The institute report took a snapshot of certain jails in the county and found that 25 percent of the population awaiting trial on felony charges were detained for an average of 104 days.  

It also found that the remaining pretrial population was released, on average, after 17 days. “And that number should be one or two days, or three days, something like that,” Witmer-Rich told the council. 

Another finding in the institute report was that 38 percent of suspects released on personal recognizance, which means they were not required to post any money, spent at least seven days behind bars before their release. 

“Again, I think that’s clearly a stat we should not be comfortable with,” he said. 

The bail task force report recommended several changes to the bail system in Cuyahoga County, including the extension of pretrial services to all the courts in the county. The Common Pleas Court offers pretrial services and Cleveland Municipal Court began providing pretrial services last month. But for the most part, such services they don’t exist within the other 12 municipal court systems in the county. 

Pretrial services are seen as critical to bail reform because they allow judges to obtain more information about a defendant before making a bail determination, including the level of risk likelihood that a defendant will fail to appear in court or be a danger to the community if released, and whether the suspect is suffering from addiction or mental health issues that should be addressed. 

The task force also recommends that judges use a tested, risk-assessment method to help make bail decisions and to rely less on bond schedules that set bail amounts based on the charge. 

Russo also announced Monday that representatives of the Pretrial justice Institute will be in Cleveland in either November of January to provide training to judges on best practices regarding bail and pretrial detention. 

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