Reading the evolving news of lawsuits and consent decrees related to bail practices in other jurisdictions, the Montgomery County Commission recognized the need to better understand bail practices in their own county, what risks the county and its courts were exposed to, and what they could do to get ahead of the curve on this important constitutional imperative. Led by Commissioner Dan Foley, the county assembled a bail review committee of diverse stakeholders across the court system, and engaged Public Performance Partners (P3) to analyze county court data, research best practices, document current practices by interviewing each municipal court in the county, and to lead and document discussions with the committee. P3 also hosted Cleveland Municipal Court Administrative & Presiding Judge Ronald Adrine and facilitated a site visit to Lucas County, Ohio to hear first-hand from bail reform leaders across the state.
Like most county court systems, Montgomery County had recently consolidated disparate bail schedules in use throughout the county’s municipal courts. The common pleas court also operates a pretrial services department, whereby approximately 27% of the county’s pretrial population (felony and violent misdemeanors only) were interviewed and assessed with the ORAS-PT tool, for the development of a bond recommendation, leaving over 70% of the county pretrial population without a risk assessment or recommendation. When P3 interviewed municipal and common pleas judges throughout the county, we found the courts generally felt their bail schedules and related practices were effective in protecting the public safety and ensuring appearance, while protecting the constitutional rights of the accused. P3 discovered a different narrative occurring in the data.
P3 analyzed case records with associated jail data going back more than three and a half years to the beginning of 2014, and found that more than one in three court cases would experience at least one failure to appear and 27% would experience recidivism while out on bail. The numbers were even worse for the municipal courts, which had no formal pretrial bond recommendation support outside of those accused of violent misdemeanors. Further, the county was detaining 220 pretrial defendants in the jail due to inability to pay; almost 25% of its capacity just months prior to implementation of the T-CAP program, which will likely return upwards of 250+ Felony 5 offenders to Montgomery County Jail.
Facing similar issues, but with the added complication of a federal consent decree governing their jail population, Lucas County officials recognized the need to expand their common pleas pretrial services’ mandate to provide bond recommendations for all defendants of all municipal courts as a regional shared service, using a validated risk assessment tool and a preference for release on recognizance or with supervision. Just a year into their reform of bail practices, Lucas County had cut failure to appear by a third and recidivism in half, while significantly reducing pretrial jail days.
Considering our data analysis, and emerging trends and best practices across the state and the country, P3 advised the commission to fund the expansion of the common pleas court’s pretrial services division to the entire felony and misdemeanor pretrial population across all county municipal courts. To achieve the kind of success Lucas County had already experienced, P3 recommended the formation of a Council of Government (CoG) structure that would allow all participating courts and pretrial officials a vote on the governance, and a method of funding a consolidated pretrial services team as a regional shared service. P3 also recommended moving away from the interview-based ORAS-PT risk assessment tool, in favor of a more statistically validated risk assessment tool with the potential for automation that would efficiently scale the expansion of risk assessments and bond recommendations.
Conversations are now occurring across the judicial and legislative bodies of the county to determine how to best implement improved bail practices in Montgomery County. Click here to read P3’s full report to the Montgomery County Commission.