Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) is calling on state lawmakers to reform Virginia’s cash bail system. Herring sent a letter to the Virginia State Crime Commission Monday (10/22) outlining his concerns.
He said cash bail keeps too many low-income Virginians behind bars while allowing wealthier defendants to go free.
“I want to keep dangerous people in jail and I want people to show up for court,” Herring said. “And it’s clear that there are better, more effective ways to achieve that.”
Herring said it doesn’t make communities safer to make a low-risk, non-violent person sit in jail, just because they can’t afford to post bail. And it’s expensive.
“It costs about $3 a day to keep someone on pretrial services, versus about $85 per day if they are jailed,” Herring said. “So if we make smart reforms we could be talking about millions in savings while still meeting our public safety goals.”
Bail provides the opportunity for individuals to be released from jail while they await trial. The bail amount is set by a judge and the money is returned to the defendant if they make all of their court appearances.
Herring first announced his support for bail reform during a speech in Fairfax County on Sunday. He was speaking to the group VOICE, a coalition of faith communities and civic organizations.
“It is [with] sadness that I have seen brothers and sisters on the phone begging-- can you get $100 from Joe can you get $100 from Mo?"
Jackie Surratt, a returning citizen spoke Sunday in favor of bail reform.
"It is pain for their families because they couldn’t get out on bond," she said.
David Bourne, President of the Virginia Bail Association said the current system does need reform, but any changes should be based on current data, specific to the Commonwealth of Virginia.
“Our objective is to become part of the solution by working with the Attorney General, Virginia State Crime Commission, Department of Criminal Justice Services, and the State Legislature,” Bourne said. “Together, we can reform the system into something that will benefit all Virginians.”
The Virginia State Crime Commission is studying the issue and will present its findings on November 8th.
Herring joins a long list of officials in Virginia and across the nation calling for cash-bail reform. Richmond’s top prosecutor announced in April he’ll no longer request bail for criminal defendants awaiting trial. And a judge in Northern Virginia has stopped setting cash bail for low-risk defendants.
This summer, California became the first state in country to scrap cash bail. New Jersey all but eliminated the practice in 2017.