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Bail agents oppose proposed changes to Ohio's bail system

Special to the Legal News

Published: January 3, 2018

The Ohio Bail Agents Association is trying to prevent proposed legislation from reforming the state's bail system.

"Our livelihood is on the line, ladies and gentleman, but we believe with our hard efforts our industry will prevail and continue to serve our fellow communities," the association stated on the front page of its website.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies bail bond agents as a type of financial specialist.

The agency reported Ohio employs about 5,360 financial specialists with an annual average salary $74,910 as of May 2016. In Columbus, the field employs about 1,310 workers in Columbus with annual median hourly wage of $34.29 and average annual wage $73,030.

State Reps. Jonathan Dever, R-Madeira, and Tim Ginter, R-Salem, introduced House Bill 439 earlier this month to establish a bail system partly based on "validated risk assessment tools" that would take into account a person's threat to society and the risk that a person will fail to appear in court. It would also allow courts to set non-monetary bail and would require courts to collect certain data on bail, pretrial release and sentencing.

"Bail reform is about putting the focus back on releasing individuals who do not pose an immediate danger to society, not just those with financial means," Dever stated. "These are decisions that should be based on evidence and not the size of one's pocketbook."

But Charles Eddie Miller, president of the OBAA, said issues with the proposed reforms include a lack of transparency with the risk assessments' algorithms, independently verifying a person's criminal history and what would be taken into account. He said the current system brings accountability and ensures most people charged appear in court. He added that some adjustments could be made to the current system.

While the bill will be referred to the committee for further consideration, the conservative think tank, the Buckeye Institute released a report last week endorsing bail reform with the implementation of risk assessment tools.

"The traditional money bail scheme is in dire need of reform, it is an inefficient, expensive, unfair means of protecting communities that has proven no guarantee to stopping repeat offenders," stated Daniel J. Dew, a legal fellow with The Buckeye Institute's Legal Center and author of the report.

"The bail system in Ohio is essentially the same one being run since statehood," stated Jeff Clayton, executive director of American Bail Coalition, who disagreed with the Buckeye Institute's report. "While adjustments to the system can always be made, putting our blind faith in 'black-box' algorithms to fix the problem is not only unproven, it is simply naive."

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